It has become an age-old question in the auto industry: when responding to a lead, what is more important, speed or quality? The issue has been debated for years, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Should we favor responding to a customer quickly, or with as thorough and tailored a response as possible?

Customers’ attention spans are dwindling with every passing year, and the increasingly responsive and tailored experiences they receive on websites like Amazon and Google are making them even more demanding. How can a dealership keep up with this? How can you give shoppers what they have come to expect, with limited resources?

The Debate

The importance of a quick response time is seen in almost every industry, but especially in auto. One study found that leads who received a response within 10 minutes of their request were three times more likely to visit a store than those who did not. One dealership group director explained, “The closer you can reach them while they’re in the right mental state [to listen], the better your chances are of getting them to come in.” While people are in the midst of their search, they are eager to hear more.

After 20 minutes, the likelihood of their coming in for a test drive sharply dropped. There was no discernible difference between leads who received a response in more than 20 minutes and those who did after 24 hours. It seems that the shopper moved on, and is already engaged with another site or dealership. This shift occurs as soon as 20 minutes after reaching out to you.

On the other side, though, is what we all know to be true: there is nothing more frustrating than receiving an automated response to a question you didn’t even ask. If a customer asks about a specific vehicle and receives a totally unrelated response 3 minutes later, they will be frustrated, even if the response came quickly. They might even treat the response as if it never even came.

So what is there to do? Salespeople are busy– they need to sell cars on the sales floor, respond to customer’s questions, and follow-up with leads. Your staff cannot always give the proper attention to each customer’s questions, and using an automated system does make the process quicker and easier for them.

What the Experts Think

Dealerships have found different ways of dealing with this issue. Some choose quality over speed, and provide highly customized and tailored responses to each lead that converts. These hope that their thoroughness will impress the customer more than a quick response would have. Others have chosen to use automated systems that respond to customers almost immediately, explaining that a salesperson will reach out to them as soon as they can. This allows the sales team to take the time they need in order to respond to each customer individually, without sacrificing on a quick response.

In interviews with AutoLeadStar, two experts weighed in on this issue. Cerin Isildak, Director of Business Development at CloudOne, claims that a lead should be responded to within minutes, and that dealerships need to either utilize automated response systems, or hire enough employees to handle all of the calls that come in. She believes that once a few minutes pass, the lead has already left to visit one of your competitor’s websites.

On the other side of the debate, Christian Salazar, GM of Matt Ford, has put a policy in place in his dealership that favors quality over speed. Any time they receive a request for information about a specific vehicle, a salesperson goes out to the car and prepares a video showing all of its different features. Salazar explains that he values quality and standing out from other dealerships over providing a quick response.

How to Have it Both Ways

With all of these opinions coming from experts on both sides, it’s hard not to wonder: can a dealership really not have it both ways? Is it impossible to provide a response that is both quick and high quality?

There is no magic solution to the issue, but there are ways to make it easier for your team to provide quality answers, even in a short amount of time. The most effective way of doing so is by gaining as much information as possible from your lead when they convert. With more information, your response can be more detailed and informed. The more your BDC or salesperson knows about the customer when they make the initial phone call, the higher quality the call will be, no matter the speed.

For example, imagine your sales team returns a call to a lead after fifteen minutes. According to many studies, this is a great response time. But if all the salesperson knows about the customer is their name, the call will be of inherently lower quality. On the other hand, if they are equipped with the knowledge that this person is looking for a used car and has visited the VDP of a specific vehicle three times, the call will be that much more tailored and customized. The shopper will receive the attention they have come to expect, and is much more likely to come into your store.

Now imagine that your sales team can know all of this and more, without asking the customer for this information. One study showed that conversion rates increased by almost 50% when the number of fields in an online form was reduced from 4 to 3. Shoppers do not like filling out extra fields and providing more details about themselves than they need to. If you can receive it without their giving it to you, all the better. With AI software and other tracking services, your sales team could know that a shopper had been on your website several times in the past and visited specific pages before submitting this request. The follow-up call will be a personalized consultation for that individual. It won’t take your sales team much time to learn this information, as it should all be logged in your CRM, and receiving that customized response will make a huge difference to the customer.

Although it won’t solve the debate, utilizing tools that provide more information about a lead can make it easier to have it both ways. Having readily available information about a shopper that your sales team can easily access will invariably make that first call be of inherently greater quality. With greater quality comes greater sales.