DANA POINT, CA – They’re introduced lightheartedly as foes, yet Katie Barnes and Glenn Porzelt seem friendly enough towards each other.

But they see things differently on the issue of whether car dealers should use their own staffers or retain outside firms to drum up business on the phone.

Many dealers rely on such business-development calls to get customers into the showroom or service department. But who should make those calls remains a topic of debate.

Barnes says she started her firm, Dynamic Virtual Business Development Center in Fond du Lac, WI, after her work at a dealer consultant convinced her dealerships did a bad job at telemarketing.

In contrast, Porzelt set up an internal business-development call center for his employer, the 4-store Eck Automotive Group based in Wichita, KS.

It’s not that Porzelt doesn’t see Barnes’ point of view. After all, he once shared it.

He was working for an information-technology company when Eck’s dealer principal told him of plans for an in-house call center.

“I told him he shouldn’t do it on his own,” Porzelt recalls at an automotive conference here put on by DealerSocket, a customer-relationship management firm.

The dealer went ahead with the idea anyway and hired Porzelt to execute it. “He felt it was something the dealership needed to do. He said, ‘These are my customers.’ He felt a dealership employee could make it a better customer experience.”

The Eck group employs 10 to 11 people handling calls ranging from scheduling sales and service appointments to following up on declined-service and Internet leads to doing customer-satisfaction surveys.

“The staff is very competent,” Porzelt says. “The operation runs well, but not on its own. It requires care and feeding.”

Barnes says most dealership-call programs go wrong when sales staffers are recruited to work the phones to any great extent as part of their daily tasks.

“It boils down to people and accountability,” she says. “A call-center person is sitting there for eight hours making phone calls. That’s not something dealership sales people like to do.”

Nor has she found them particularly good at it. “I’ve listened to hours of sales people’s calls that are nice, but never ask for the appointment.”

Her company, charging about $2.50 per call, constantly must prove it is a good return on investment, she says. “We have no long-term contracts. We are month-to month. We maintain quality through training and use technology such as auto dialers that lets us make 120 calls an hour.”

Eck hires people with call-center experience. Some calls are easy enough, such as customer-satisfaction survey-taking, Porzelt says. But appointment-making calls go to more experienced crew members. Base pay is $10 an hour, with commissions for successfully scheduling appointments.

Barnes is a believer in scripted calls using the right words and phrases. She tells of one case in which the tweaking of a script here and there resulted in a “phenomenal” 71% success rate in securing appointments.

“How someone delivers the script is as important as the script itself,” she adds. “A lot of dealership sales people aren’t opposed to making calls, they just don’t know what to say.”

Call-center staffers should stick to making sales appointments, not try to sell cars on the phone, warns Jonathan Ord, CEO of DealerSocket. “Otherwise, you get into conflicts between sales reps and business-development center reps.”

In-house calls focus more on customer relationships, while outsourcing the work is more about making the contact, “but without hurting the relationship,” he says.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com