Getting her start in automotive as a receptionist, Katie Wagner tells Modern Dealership’s Joey Little how she found a weakness at the dealership where she worked and created a solution for it – growing her career at the same time. Check out her story, and her three tips for running a successful BDC.

1. First of all, I heard you just had a baby?

Yes, Charles. He just turned 3 months today, and he rolled over a quarter of the way, so we’re getting there.

2. Congratulations to you and your husband, that’s great. How long have you been working in automotive?

10 years now. Automotive is the only thing I know, which is really fun because there are so many avenues to take. I started with a car dealership right next door, as a part-time receptionist. Ended up secret shopping local dealerships on their internet follow-up process and follow through. I just created an alias online, sent in leads, and then pitched myself to local dealerships showing them the gaps in their basic internet process after a lead comes in looking for a vehicle or lease. Worked for about five years next door, then I wanted to move into the finance department. I did that for a couple of years, and I got recruited to where I am now: A full-functioning centralized BDC, working in sales and service, beyond the third-party leads that come in. So really working our data.

3. Did you secret shop the first dealership where you worked?

Definitely. At that time, I was still going to college and was filling out form leads asking for information I couldn’t find online, like what the tuition would be, and from there I just started filling out forms asking about cars. I don’t know exactly how that linked together, but something just clicked in my brain.

4. So just a VDP on your own website?

A VDP, yeah … I did a couple of searches. Once I started, I just kept creating different gmail accounts and submitting leads. All I got was an auto-response that said they got it. So I just walked it over to our marketing department person at the time, and asked if they sent it to me. I pointed out the spelling error, and that I didn’t get the answer to my payment question. They just said it was a response from the manufacturer.

5. Did you ever get a good response?

No. I even made multiple alias emails, and I did it for about three months. Even when asking a simple question like “Is the vehicle available?” I’d just get the same boxed response: This is our “why buy,” this is where we’re located ….

6. Were you looking to make a career out of it at that point?

Not really, I just like to find the solution in everything. If somebody’s asking a question about a car, regardless of the vehicle value, you have to take care of the customer. That’s just basic customer service.

This was 10 years ago. I think the mentality at the time was “Just get them in the door.” Or even, “They know who we are. We sponsor enough baseball games. They’re going to come here naturally.”

7. What’s changed since then?

We’ve totally stepped up our game in the past five years. Not just the BDC, but overall, with our photos and our vehicle comments … even the coffee we serve in our waiting lounge. I still put leads out there with alias emails, and my questions aren’t always answered. We’re not perfect, but I think we’re getting there as an industry.

A great way to improve is to focus on the details. If the customer says they just got back from a trip, that’s the first thing you put in the notes of the customer’s appointment, so the next person who contacts them can say, “Hey, how was your trip?” Just passing on that customer care is so important.

8. Let’s role play: I’m a GM setting up a BDC. What would you tell me I have to have? What are the three Katie Wagner must-haves?

The GM buy-in. You need the General Manager, or the dealer, to be fully supportive. It starts from the top down. The person paying for it – because it is an expense – has to be behind it. From there, start small. Maybe just take internet leads. That’s what we did. Prove your success there and then take on the next thing.

Next thing is the people. Who you work with. You have to have the right BDC manager who’s willing to update processes and try something new. Like five years ago, we never would have done video, but now we do video all the time because it works!

9. I’ve heard from a lot of BDC managers that it’s hard to hire the right people.

It comes down to processes and expectations. The team I have now isn’t the team I had five years ago. Have people come in and shadow. It really is a fun environment for the right person, so see how they shadow. Are they involved and asking questions? I tell all my shadows they can wear whatever they want to wear, stay as long as they want. It’s really helped me find the right people.

10. Those were two great tips. What would be the third?

Inspect what you expect. I’ll have new managers come in and ask, “How do you know we’re doing our job properly?” I can say, “My rep A had 150 inquires, and they turned 10 percent of them into shows. Is that satisfactory for us?” No, our goal is 40 percent. And the national average is 30, depending on the lead source. So if I inspect every day, then I can say, “Rep A, you’re here, and we want to get you here,” and as a team we’ll grow together. We’ll figure out the word tracks. We’ll figure out why someone’s not getting the numbers they need to. That’s the biggest thing. It’s the processes you have in place, and what numbers you’re using to measure it. It’s easy!