For many, the Internet and the ease of email and texting are seen as magic bullets that help speed car sales and lower overhead.

In reality, the Internet is simply another form of advertising, and email/texting can be impersonal tools, but, if used appropriately, can help bring prospects to the dealership.

As these tools have increased in importance, dealership must increase their emphasis internally as well, and establish Internet departments that respond to online inquiries and elevate the dealership’s online presence.

These tools often are used to do research and pose questions. That creates opportunities for sales people to secure appointments, but never relied on to close the deal. If misused, these tools can turn customers away.

Consider this actual example:

A young man was faced with a choice of replacing the engine in his existing Honda or replacing the car. He opted to purchase and preferred a new vehicle. Using the Internet he narrowed his choices to the Mini Cooper Clubman and Honda CRV.

He emailed local dealerships and he was given information on pricing and cars in stock. Assuming he was at the point of price discussions, he emailed his “ideal” out-the-door price, never having seen or selected a specific vehicle. The Mini Cooper salesperson suggested he looked for a different car and dealership. The Honda salesperson never responded.

Business must be good for those two.

Meanwhile, the owner of his independent Honda service shop called to see if he was still shopping for a new car. The owner, who had remembered a casual email exchange about his preferences, was at a used-car auction.

Over the phone, he helped the young man select the right car: color (“I believe you said you didn’t want blue.”), model (CRV), a late model (“I found one that’s two years old, with only 10,000 miles and still under warranty.”), and desired features (“It has room for your golf clubs and sports equipment.”).

He offered to buy the car at the auction if the young man was willing to test it out – not purchase, just test drive. He agreed and, of course, ended up buying.

The moral: people don’t buy cars over the Internet or through email. It takes personal service, attentive listening, a willingness to go the extra mile, a desire to help a buyer select the right car, and the ability to get the demo.

When sales people take time to provide “red-carpet” service, price becomes less relevant. This scenario started with the buyer’s Internet research and a casual email exchange, but closed because of the shop owner’s determination to make purchasing a car a personalized and easy experience.

The Internet has its place in the sales cycle, as do social media networks like FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Like traditional advertising, it’s important to select the right placement and media to carry your message.

It also is important to drive visibility through search-engine optimization. Like all advertising, online advertising should be tracked to determine the traffic it generates. Campaigns should be adjusted to maximize response.

Email can be an effective tool, if used correctly. The very nature of the email has transformed how individuals expect to get information – instantaneously. Yet auto-responses such as, “We received your inquiry and someone will respond in 24 hours,” can be off-putting. While immediate, they are impersonal.

Ideally, dealerships should establish an Internet department dedicated to respond to every email or online inquiry virtually 24/7 via computer or mobile device. Even if the response simply acknowledges the inquiry, verifies the information and sets a time for follow up the next day, an immediate, personal response is the beginning of a positive sales experience.

Second best is to use an auto-generated response that feels personal and promises follow-up, such as: “I am not in the office right now, but wanted to respond to your inquiry right away. I will be back tomorrow and will try to reach you between 9 and 10 a.m.” (A word of caution, the call had better be made as promised.)

Keeping it personal is the key.