We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Summit Toyota's General Manager, TJ DiSanto, and BDC Director, Crystal DiSanto.
The dealership operates efficiently and continues to evolve, implementing new processes and technology to best serve customers. Their high-performing BDC is equipped to provide immediate and comprehensive assistance to customers. The dedicated team and positive atmosphere further contribute to Summit Toyota's continued growth and success.
TJ has been with Summit Toyota since 2013, and his Crystal DiSanto joined a few years ago and heads up their Business Development Center. They are both highly successful in their respective roles, running different aspects of the business. The powerful duo is also a married couple. They balance personal and business exceptionally well. Their unique dynamic works because they greatly respect one another and how their spouse handles their role and responsibilities.
In this interview, TJ and Crystal discuss Summit Toyota's community engagement, customer satisfaction, implementing new offerings and technology, and more, all while synergistically driving Summit Toyota's continued success.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Thank you for speaking with us today! First, please tell us briefly about your background, role, and responsibilities.
TJ: Sure, I’ve been in the business for a long time, close to 30 years. I started in the industry as a salesman and was then promoted to the finance department where I spent 10 years of my career before coming to our group as a Sales Manager. I have since worked my way to GSM and now General Manager since 2016.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Crystal, can you tell us about your role and responsibilities?
Crystal: Absolutely. So I wear many hats, but my primary role is BDC Director, handling sales. We also have a BDC for service, so I'm in charge of both. I like picking up new things and adding to what I'm doing.
DEALER MAGAZINE: What is the overall mission and vision for Summit Toyota? What sets the dealership apart from others in the Ohio area?
TJ: Our primary mission is to provide an exceptional product and complement them with our strong community engagement. We aim to provide prompt and honest service while actively participating in the community. We also place a strong emphasis on leveraging technology and pushing for innovation.
But more importantly, we foster a unique dealership
culture that permeates our environment. This approach helps customers to feel
comfortable, and it aids in building long-term relationships with them.
DEALER MAGAZINE: How do you ensure ease of access to vehicle information for its customers? What tools or methods do you employ?
TJ: We have recently partnered with Toyota to introduce
"Smart Path," a platform that allows customers to control their
sales process online. This ensures they receive what they see online when they
visit our store or request delivery. We aim to be transparent, as it helps
build trust and gives control to the customer.
MAGAZINE: What steps does Summit Toyota take to ensure customer satisfaction and address concerns or complaints quickly?
TJ: Transparency again plays a crucial role. We are introducing Smart Path Service in September, which allows customers to track their vehicle's service status with features like video communication. If there are any concerns, we take them very seriously and strive to understand the situation thoroughly before addressing them.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Summit Toyota has really built up its internet sales, please tell us about that. And what’s your structure/process look like in your BDC?
Crystal: We can do everything for the customer as if they were in the showroom, from desking deals to taking deposits for vehicles.
Dealer Synergy helped us lay out a blueprint for the department, and that gave us a strong foundation to build from. They helped us to develop a system for how long to keep leads open and the buckets we put them in. So we use their scorecard system to track. There's your sales and your show rate, and so forth, and it works well. We've adjusted that over time to the market, made our touches, and added from there. For example, virtual appointments were something we started around when the pandemic hit.
While we handle each customer differently, there is an overall structure. For instance, we keep a customer open for at least 60 days and follow up with a certain number of calls. How we handle each customer may vary, depending on whether it's a virtual deposit over the phone or having them come in, answer questions and get them quotes. But with that said, we have a general structure.
DEALER MAGAZINE: So your virtual approach also helps you build and maintain your customer's trust?
Crystal: 100%. But I will say that with our salespeople, there was initially some pushback when we first implemented the virtual approach. We faced some resistance from our salespeople in the beginning. However, I explained how it creates such a different personal connection with customers. They're sitting in front of you, and you're building a relationship instead of just answering their questions over the phone. And then showing the stats also helped with getting our team on board.
DEALER MAGAZINE: That's awesome. How do the processes, people, and technology you have work together? How much of the process or components can be integrated into your systems?
Crystal: We've set up many components directly into our CRM, enabling automatic emails to be sent to their respective buckets. That's pretty easy to integrate into the systems we use.
But there's a lot that employees have to remember and more knowledge and skills they need. They have to deal with all the systems, processes, numerous steps, and workflows. It used to be that you had a script, which was vital. You could follow that script, and as long as you were good, you could get the job done. But now, a BDC coordinator has to think on their feet a lot more. It's no longer about sticking to a script but being skilled salespeople, selling not only the appointment but also the entire experience. So it all comes back to the continued training that we do.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Tell us a little more about your approach to training for your team.
Crystal: I'm a big advocate of cultivating a positive atmosphere, so I've introduced various games to complement their training and make it fun. For instance, we have games like Jenga, rebuttal ball, dice game, and fun bingo where they can win prizes. These games keep them engaged with the processes, whether it's perfecting their rebuttals or mastering the use of different systems. It helps them stay on track and enhances their overall learning experience.
Of course, as technology and how we can engage consumers evolves, we adapt accordingly. For example, we are exploring a new texting software to improve customer communication. However, this also means introducing another system that our staff must learn and navigate.
I'm lucky to have a skilled, dedicated team with people who have been here three or more years; nobody's been here less.
DEALER MAGAZINE: With what you do, Crystal, where are the biggest challenges?
Crystal: The inventory issue has been a challenge for our customers and staff. We still have that a little bit, so we don't necessarily even have cars for you to test drive. So getting people in has been a whole challenge in itself. From the customer's perspective, it's frustrating when they are going to spend $30,000 on a vehicle that they can't even see yet. That's why we started integrating virtual appointments to at least spec out the vehicle. Since we were taking deposits, you're getting put on a list and go through all of that, do it all, virtually.
We also offer rentals and expanded that a little bit, which helped with vehicle availability for customers. However, it's a challenge as the BDC is setting appointments, and then they have to verify the car will be here when the customers are coming in on that day.
And the market is highly competitive, so that's a challenge we've dealt with too. We were one of the few in our area that
didn’t charge above MSRP. However, there’s a ton of customers, and they don’t
know that. Numerous customers were calling in, urgently wanting a vehicle. And we
would explain the waiting list process, but some customers still expect
immediate availability. They would call around to other dealerships, so we
had to be patient. But we would call them in a day or two, and then we would usually do business together.
DEALER MAGAZINE: How do you ensure that your online inventory is continuously updated and accurately reflects the vehicles available at the dealership?
TJ: For our pre-owned vehicles, we review and update the inventory every morning, adjusting prices as needed. New inventory is more complex due to shipping times and pre-sales. We have a system that tracks all inventory, but we also manually verify each vehicle's availability to prevent misunderstandings.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Can you explain the test drive setup there?
TJ: Of course. Our test drive setup is unique. It's primarily customer-controlled and customizable based on their preferences and the experience they're looking for. While we offer customers the opportunity to go for test drives alone, we have a tracking system. We also provide rental options for our new inventory. This is all part of our mission to meet each customer's unique requirements and create an exceptional experience for them.
DEALER MAGAZINE: How does what you do fit within the marketing and advertising and how you go to market?
Crystal: In our case, TJ is the person in charge of advertising. Since I also have his ear outside of work, it allows for more direct communication and collaboration. We usually discuss ideas about putting more emphasis on the website and offering more virtual experiences through several channels, like email. And I'm looking at a texting company that allows customers to get information through a single text. So he takes all that into account and uses that for the advertising, how we're marketing ourselves, our website, and so on. All of that plays together. It has lead to countless hours of after work/days off of bouncing ideas off each other. Some of our best ideas have come from good conversations late in the evening.
DEALER MAGAZINE: What are you doing to attract and retain customers in the broad geographical area you serve?
TJ: We strive to make our name known online
and within the community. We stay competitive and aim to offer one of our
region's top 10 vehicle selections. We maintain fair pricing and avoid price
gouging, even during times of inventory shortage. Charging over the MSRP is a
short-sighted way to treat our customers and can damage long-term
DEALER MAGAZINE: In regard to community efforts, can you provide examples of events or initiatives that Summit Toyota has been involved in?
TJ: Indeed, we are deeply invested in the Akron and surrounding communities. For example, we have offered scholarships, arranged visits from NFL
players to local schools, and provided opportunities for fishing events. We
also maintain a close relationship with St Vincent-St. Mary's in Akron, through which we
make various donations in partnership with Toyota. These initiatives form the
heart of our community involvement efforts.
DEALER MAGAZINE: That's wonderful. How does Summit Toyota utilize customer feedback to improve its community involvement?
TJ: We greatly value the feedback we receive from our customers. For instance, when we hear that we're ranked number one by a customer who learned about us through a scholarship event, it reinforces the importance of our community involvement. The fact that we're visible in our community's significant events strengthens our relationship with customers and encourages more people to come to us. When you bond with your community you earn trust.
DEALER MAGAZINE: How do you ensure that your community engagement efforts align with the values and needs of the local communities you serve?
Crystal: We align our community engagement efforts through direct involvement in community groups, like the PTO and Wadsworth Youth Football. By interacting with the community, we can understand their needs and provide support, whether scholarships, Chromebooks for schools, or helping with local events.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Excellent. Could you explain how Summit Toyota integrates its online and offline customer experience to provide a seamless journey for its customers?
TJ: Of course. We aim to provide a consistent
experience for our customers, whether online or in the store. We aim to make
the purchasing process transparent and straightforward, with no hidden costs or
surprises. The price you see online is the price you get in the store.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Can you share your strategy for driving customers from online channels to physical store visits?
Crystal: Sure. Our strategy
includes direct communication with potential customers. We call them, answer
their questions, and address their concerns. If the customer is far from our
dealership, we offer virtual appointments, which we treat the same as in-person
visits. We aim to continue the process the customer started online and provide
the information they need to make their decision.
TJ: Adding to Crystal's points, our BDC plays a crucial role
in this process. Our BDC staff act as sales managers, capable of answering
customer queries and facilitating the purchasing process without callbacks.
DEALER MAGAZINE: That sounds efficient. What have you done to enhance the physical dealership location in the face of increasing digitalization?
TJ: We keep our physical dealership attractive by
continuously improving our facilities. Seven years ago, we invested about $3 million
in the building. This includes a comfortable waiting area equipped with amenities like a 500-gallon fish tank to create a pleasant environment for our customers. There is a TV side to the lounge and a quite side to read or desks to get work done.
Crystal: Moving into the new facility tremendously impacted our staff's morale, translating into improved sales. It instilled a sense of pride in our team and demonstrated our commitment to providing a superior customer experience.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Interesting. Regarding accessibility and inclusion, how does Summit Toyota implement Toyota's commitment to these principles at the dealership level?
TJ: Our commitment to accessibility, diversity,
and inclusion begins at the top and is implemented throughout our organization.
We strive to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and included.
We also focus on education around unconscious bias and discrimination to
further enhance the inclusivity of our dealership.
DEALER MAGAZINE: How does Summit Toyota's commitment to accessibility and inclusion influence your community approach?
TJ: Our approach to community engagement is as
inclusive as possible, covering all demographics and areas. We don't focus on
specific demographics or income areas that align with the average Toyota buyer.
Instead, we put our energy into serving all segments of our community equally,
reinforcing our commitment to inclusivity.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Could you describe a typical day at Summit Toyota? What are the key activities and operations?
TJ: I usually get to the dealership around 7:15 to 7:30 in the morning. We review the day's appointments, look at the previous day's business, assess our inventory, and adjust pricing as needed.
We strive to keep on top of these tasks to ensure smooth operation and be ready to welcome our customers. That preparation time is invaluable. It allows me to be prepared for the day ahead and avoid impromptu decision-making.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Seeing how your roles essentially split up the 'big' store duties, how much of that flows into your personal lives? Tell us a little about the nuances between how you operate professionally and coexist personally.
Crystal: In our case, we don't let it overlap at the office. That's one of the reasons it works for us. We keep that separate. It also helps that we have deep respect for each other's roles and how we handle them. I've been running phone rooms since I was 19, so it's not like he wanted me here because I was his wife. In fact, I was hired by Dealer Synergy, an outside company, which has played a significant role in maintaining a healthy dynamic. With my past experience and what I've shown for the last couple of years, I've gained everyone else's respect as well.
There's an aspect where it does bleed over in a good way when we're at home. You would think, Oh, the last thing you want to do is talk about work. But we do that so well with each other; we pick each other's brains, talk about how the day went, and go back and forth. We come up with so many ideas for things to do. I mean, TJ talks to the owner about it all the time, how he gets all these extra man hours from us because we're just at home talking about ways to grow and better serve our customer! So that's where it bleeds over but in a good way.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Awesome. Now, let's talk buzzwords - Customer Data Platforms (CDP) and AI tools. What are you doing as a leadership group at the dealership to really wrap your head around these technologies?
Crystal: Yeah, I think it's a great question. I'm all about the future of the car business. I don't think it's going to be the way it has been in the past. There's a lot to evolve and refine with all the virtual and online shopping and combining all that with our physical showroom at the dealership. I'm all about continually learning and sharing with others. I read up on trends, am a huge listener of any car podcasts, and keep up with new ideas.
And I'm looking forward to being at Digital Dealer in October! I'm looking forward to attending sessions. I'm also excited to explore and be able to walk around for those days, checking out different solutions in the expo hall and learning from others. I'm excited about seeing things, hearing tips, and picking up new ideas. I'm an absorber of that kind of stuff.
DEALER MAGAZINE: And you’re going to facilitate one of the masterminds at Digital Dealer Las Vegas!
Crystal: Yeah, I'm excited and nervous! The thought of being at a podium presenting solo would have been a hard no for me. However, this opportunity to co-facilitate with Sean changes everything. He's a fantastic speaker, and when he talks, ideas flow naturally. I'm also comfortable with this format because it's a mastermind-style session.
DEALER MAGAZINE: Thank you both for your time! Any final advice or thoughts you'd like to share?
Crystal: Just that learning, training, and staying up-to-date is key. If you're not learning, you're not moving forward.