(from left) Longo Toyota President Doug Eroh, General Sales Manager Aaron Misajon, Vice President of Financial Services Rene Lawson and Business Development Manager Neil Polzin interact with customers via an online video call.
How do you turn the negative of constrained vehicle inventory into a positive that builds customer loyalty and trust? If you’re Doug Eroh, president and general manager of Longo Toyota, the magic wand is increased communication — in any way possible.
That includes an ambitious Zoom call with a vast swath of the Southern California megadealer’s customers. It’s an innovation that’s likely to be repeated every few months for however long the current market conditions persist.
“At the time we began talking about doing this we had about 8,000 vehicle orders on the books,” Eroh says. “By the time of the call (in March), it had grown to more than 10,000. It’s very hard to wrap your arms around that and treat everyone with openness and respect. You certainly can’t do it one-on-one. But there are other ways.”
Fortunately, due to learnings gained from doing business during COVID, Longo Toyota already had the basic template of a solution in hand. Since the introduction of the RAV4 Prime in 2020, the dealership had replaced its traditional in-store new product launch events with virtual equivalents. But those sessions were relatively small in scale, with each focusing on an individual vehicle — such as the all-new Mirai — and a limited subset of customers interested in learning more about it.
An update on the new-vehicle pipeline, however, would need to address a much wider array of issues and reach a considerably larger universe of customers. As such, Eroh says it required scaling up not only the technology but the preparations of those entrusted with deploying it.
“When we sent out the invitation, we really had no idea how our customers would respond,” he says. “But when we received more than 450 RSVPs, it kind of shocked us. It reminded us just how invested people are in their cars and how excited they are about Toyota’s products.”
Eroh led things off with a status report on the inventory levels at that time and what was anticipated over the next six months. Participants were invited to submit general questions (specifics on their vehicle order could be addressed offline) via the chat channel, and more than 200 poured in. Eroh and key members of his staff — including General Sales Manager Aaron Misajon, Vice President of Financial Services Rene Lawson and Business Development Manager Neil Polzin — then spent the next two hours answering each one. Before they signed off, another 200 questions had accumulated. So Long Toyota responded to those over the following few days.
Did it work?
“We think so,” Eroh says. “What I can say is that the customers on the call were not angry. They were frustrated, just as everyone is in this situation. But what gets people upset is when no one communicates with them. That’s what this was all about.”
Since then, Eroh says Longo Toyota has begun to make progress on its backlog — in part by refusing to take new orders on vehicles that are likely to take more than a year to fill. Still, follow-up Zoom calls will likely be needed every few months until some sense of normalcy returns. But that’s not to say that the old way of doing things will follow suit.
“I think the days of throwing a party in the showroom every time a new vehicle comes out and then expecting people to fight through traffic to get there after a long day at work are gone,” he says. “There’s certainly no way 500 people would have showed up if we’d tried to do this in person. By going the virtual route, we can reach far more people faster and easier. That helps us tell our story: that we’re going to treat our customers fairly. We’re in this for the long haul. Zoom calls are a great way for us to reinforce that message.”