Customer service, and exactly what that entrails, is a constant topic of debate in the world of car retailing. Although dealing in big ticket items with massive emotional attachment it is still very easy for sales professionals to slip into the habit of treating customers as just another number. They must never forget that, for many customers, the experience of buying a car could be just about the most exciting and important thing they have ever done and if the service does not match up to the expectation that experience can render the transaction unmemorable to say the least.
The trouble is of course with the question; what is a great customer experience?
There is no one size fits all; whether a £2,000 second hand Fiesta or a hundred grand Bentley whoever is selling should want the customer to be totally happy and refer the dealer to friends and family. However the reality is that the expectation for the buyer of the cheaper car could be somewhat different to the expensive one and that is where there are no real right answers, it is all about meeting the customer expectation whatever that maybe.
I heard an example of the changing world recently when a sales manager was explaining how they nearly lost a sale as a result of the inflexibility of the sales process in place at his dealership.
The background to this was that sales were down and, more importantly, conversion rates were falling through the floor and even though footfall was lower, the sales team were not turning enquiries into appointments and appointments into sales.
The management decided it was time for an all out back to basics approach and that meant no customer left the showroom unless the managers knew and the sales process had to be rigidly adhered to with no exceptions. The thinking being that when everyone concentrates on something at the same time the desired results tend to be achieved.
Sure enough conversions started to rise again and the sales team regained control of the process, which is vitally important to a successful outcome.
Nevertheless there are always going to be customers who do not want to be part of this “big journey” which can often take hours before they reach the end, such is the depth of questioning now involved in trying to introduce as many saleable products as possible into the presentation.
All some buyers want is a trade-in price and a cost to change, no monthly payment, no add-ons just a cash price to get out of their existing car and into the next one.
The problem is that, in today’s world salespeople are almost seen as unclean if all they do is sell a car – if they don’t sell the products they haven’t done the job.
The conflict which occurred in this case was such that the customer nearly walked and after a great deal of negotiation at least agreed to listen to the sales person who was duty bound to at least explain the products to the customer or risk non-conformance and possibly lose the commission if he didn’t insist on sticking to the process. The customer eventually bought the car because the deal was right but a perfectly easy transaction could have been ruined because of the management’s insistence on going through “the process” every time with no exceptions. Although history has taught us that a robust process will work for the majority and does give management an effective measure of the experience their customers are getting, there is certainly a need for some flexibility.
The truth is that car buyers nowadays, thanks to the internet, are likely to be far further along the car buying process by the time they actually reach the showroom than they may have been in the past. Like it or not the internet is here to stay and with regard to selling cars it has educated and empowered buyers like never before.
We often hear stories of how customers know more about the cars spec and model range than the salesperson trying to sell it to them so there is a good chance that, with their research having been thorough, the buyer knows exactly what they want before they get to the showroom.
So having given them all this info and knowledge if they want to just come in and negotiate a deal without all the fluff why not just let them?