Skip to content

Five ways to handle out-of-hours leads

Posted by Ashley Karr on October 23, 2019

Your business hours might be nine to five, but your customers are not. More and more are doing their homework online – used car buyers spend an average of six hours online searching for vehicle and dealership information* – and it’s increasingly likely that their first contact with a dealership will be outside of normal working hours.

Stagnation is a killer for customer leads, so there’s extra pressure on retailers to respond when the physical business is off the clock. Here are five ways to tackle those late night or early morning queries.

Live chat

This is one of the most immediate ways of responding to online customers at any hour of the day and is widely used across the industry, as punters can ask questions via the website whenever they like and get an instant answer.

There is no shortage of software and service companies offering live chat and some dealer management systems even sell it as a bolt-on feature. There is usually the option of a staffed service, whereby the supplier will provide the system itself and a call-centre-style facility to field enquiries. It’s great for tackling simple initial queries – and quickly – but it’s worth remembering that outsourced services have their limitations in terms of the depth of answers they can offer customers because they’re not ensconced in the day-to-day running of the dealership.

It may also be possible to simply buy the software and arrange for in-house employees to be online via a shift pattern. However, that will require significant extra staff power and during off-hours.


Consumers are conditioned to expect a response no matter what day and time it is, so even out-of-hours email leads need an immediate response. Marketing automation allows you to send a reply immediately and let the customer know who will be following up with them and when. This quick reply lets the customer know that you’ve received their message and that you plan to follow up with them within a certain time period.

Video and social media

At the more advanced end of the spectrum, some organisations have begun using video chat as a way of instantly communicating with customers. This offers the same off-the-bat response as live chat but augments the experience, as customers can actually see and interact with another human being, which adds a warm and welcome dimension and builds trust.

Social media is another potential first port of call for customers. Given their ease of access and prolific nature, it’s all the more likely that customers will favour Facebook Messenger or direct messages via Twitter over and above more traditional methods. Again, it comes down to resources, but dealers or groups with dedicated digital teams – in-house or otherwise – should certainly view the above as viable means of off-the-clock customer communication.


It might sound old-fashioned next to the aforementioned methods, but a phone call remains a reliable and an immediate means of contact. As with digital services, there is always the option of farming out after-hours phone calls to a third party, but this is an area in which dealers have used internal staff to good effect in the past.

Tweaking shift patterns so employees start work a little later in the day – 11am, for example – and remain on duty after the physical business has closed its doors specifically for phone leads gives customers a direct line to a clued-up individual. Some retailers also operate a system whereby certain staffs remain on call for an agreed amount of time after hours via a work-supplied mobile phone, to which the showroom’s calls are diverted.

Following up

All of the methods above require time, cost and resource, which dealers need to calculate accordingly to garner the best results. You may find that a little experimentation goes a long way – and the most vital part of any customer communication, either in or out of normal business hours, is that all leads are followed up.

This is especially important with outsourced services, where a customers’ first point of contact is a third party rather than the dealership itself, and there’s a reliance on in-house staff to get back in touch with more detailed information. Either way, a policy of chasing up leads within hours rather than days will inevitably yield strong results.

*Opinium/CarGurus, December 2017, n=5,004 UK used car buyers
Topics: best practices, enquiries, leads