Dealership personnel shouldn't regard the store's customer-relationship management system as stark electronic-processing software on a computer. Instead, think of it as a helpful human.

That anthropomorphic perspective increases the chances of dealership staffers best utilizing the CRM system the boss is spending so much money on.

So says David Kain, president of Kain, who trains dealership employees on various things. That includes how to get the most out of CRM systems, some of which aren't used to their fullest because of staff resistance.

To overcome that, he says: “Think of CRM as a live person, an administrative assistant providing the luxury of coming to us throughout the day and saying, ‘Remember you wanted me to remind you to send an email to Mr. and Mrs. Jones’ or ‘Remember you wanted me to make this phone call.’

“If someone did that, you would probably pay more attention,” Kain says at a recent webinar. “CRM does much the same as that paid assistant hired to make you more effective.”

It's more palatable to think of it that way. Yet, some people overcomplicate the whole idea of putting customer information into a CRM system and then systematically using that intelligence to sell more cars and service.

Modern CRM systems are amazing in their ability to capture, record, sort and leverage such information on a grand scale, as well as follow up, track leads from beginning to end and keep in touch with customers thereafter.

You can do that manually. But it is a heck of a lot easier to let the CRM system pitch in.

Kain tries to demystify CRM through the use of analogies. There's that one about the administrative assistant. Here are a couple others:

“Think of a CRM system as a water tower over a community. It delivers nourishment to us every day. But it has to be replenished, just like the CRM data base has to be enriched. That's done by asking customers for their phone numbers and correct emails whenever they come in.

“Thirty percent of emails go bad every year, so it is important to refresh that data base, just as that water tower needs to be refreshed to help the people it serves.”

Kain, a former dealer principal, recalls that when he was selling cars, the showroom staff had plastic boxes filled with 3-by-5 index cards containing scribbled-down customer information.

“We made notes on those cards, and moved them back and forth in the box depending on our planned points of customer contact. So if I learn from Joe Smith that he's a race-car fan or runs a grocery store or moved from Montana, I made note of all that.

“When I retrieve his card in six months or so to make contact, I have that information and show, when I'm talking to him, that I had paid attention.”

A CRM system, Kain says, “doesn't have to be any more complicated than that.”