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Jared Hamilton
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Richard Holland

Richard Holland Managing Director

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What Happened to Customer Service?

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A recent event held by Edmunds named “Hackomotive” brought together some of the brightest technology innovators in the automotive industry. The purpose of this event was to streamline the automotive buying process for consumers. Technology and shopping portals are increasingly becoming more prominent in our industry. A couple of companies that are gaining steam include the Google Autos program that passes along leads via anonymous contact information, and TrueCar’s no-haggle pricing. These highlight how today’s consumers are seeking ways to avoid many of the pain points involved in the process of purchasing a vehicle. Some notable entries in this event included Carvoyant, which allowed customers to test drive vehicles without going to a dealership or even speaking with a salesperson, along with the ultimate winner, CarCode SMS, which let consumers interact with consumers via text messaging. This trend of anonymity and consumer desire to no longer interact directly with dealerships is something to keep an eye on. It presents some unique challenges that it would be wise to plan for:

  • Time – It regularly takes far too long between when the customer walks on the lot and when they leave with their new vehicle. Today’s consumer is busier than ever. Many seek to avoid the relentless back and forth that inevitably happens in most dealerships. As a result they are gravitating towards shopping portals and pricing tools.
  • Confrontation – The consumer tends to feel pressured by the salesperson. They regard them as forceful, trying to make them buy now, rather than a source of assistance in the process.  Today’s consumers are equipped with more knowledge about the vehicle than the salespeople – including the pricing. When they finally do acquiesce and go inside to talk numbers, they get hit with sticker price, low trade values, high interest rates and large down payments. This is usually all in the dealer’s efforts to maximize gross profit on the deal. It is important to adapt to today’s consumer. Change with the times and update these selling techniques that were in place 20 years ago when information wasn’t as available.
  • Harassment – When consumers are reaching out to dealers for pricing, frequently all they get in return is their phones ringing off the hook and 4 e-mails per day with multiple dealers trying to contact them. Nobody wants to be continuously bombarded by salespeople. This is the exact reason consumers like processes in which they can be provided with the answers they seek anonymously. It’s not that they don’t want to buy a vehicle. They just want to avoid the process and time involved. The only recourse they can see to eliminate this is to avoid providing contact information; and/or seek alternate means of procuring information through anonymity.

The rise of these services and consumer desire to buy factory direct can be tied right to the consumer experience. If consumers had great experiences in their auto buying journey, we wouldn’t be seeing some of these trends, and these trends wouldn’t be gaining as much ground. Customers want information, transparency and customer service. It doesn’t matter where you’re shopping – Nordstrom, Best Buy, Wal-Mart – if a salesperson was following you around the store continuously asking you to buy something every 5 minutes, you would get annoyed. The same basic principle applies to any retail environment, including car dealerships. Here’s a great example of one dealership that has successfully changed up its processes, that was recently posted on Edmunds.com

If dealerships work to create a fun shopping experience for consumers; give them the information they need when asked and create a more efficient process, consumers may in turn feel comfortable visiting dealers and sharing their information once again. Dealerships that create a more efficient processes and reduce as many of these consumer pain points as possible, will be well positioned to attract customers and generate more sales.

Jeff Wines
Richard, great article... I have a couple of little saying's that I learned during my career in the auto industry both in my retail years and my consulting years which is about 30 years. They are "Embrace Vs. Disgrace" the customers process - it's theirs not ours. Then the other is "Educate Vs. Defend" yourself in how your store does business. Transparency is everything to the consumer today and always has been, we as the industry just didn't want to listen or still don't. Which brings me to another of L.A.E.R. ( Listen-Acknowledge- Explore- Respond) You don't have the right to Respond until you've done the first three of those.) Thanks again for the article.
Matt Lowery
Just playing devils advocate here... Time: They take 2 hours picking out the vehicle, debating it, and then think once they say yes, they should be leaving in 10 minutes. We have almost as much paperwork required as when someone buys a new house. They get 30 days to do their paperwork... I get 30 minutes. Confrontation: Blah blah blah, they always say they want easy straight forward upfront pricing... how did that work out for Saturn? Of course we are trying to make them buy now! Its a today business, as soon as that customer leaves my showroom I have no doubt they will check out my competitors who will say whatever they have to in order to steal that customer away. I dont care what price I give a customer, my competitor will beat it by $100 just to screw me. And do you really think if I showed most customers right from the start what edmunds says they should buy the car for, what KBB said they should get for their car, and what interest rate is advertised as the lowest rate out there, that they wouldnt then ask for more? I still believe people tend to focus on certain issues, not the overall picture, so how do I show all this and then take a trade buyer and over allow on the trade to make him happy? Harassment: I dont really disagree here, any one dealership calling 4 times in one afternoon or sending 15 emails is just stupid. But, when thats 4 dealerships they asked prices from, this seems in line. Its a fine line between staying engaged and harassment... I believe customers dont know what they really want. They think they know, they use buzzwords that sound cool like transparency. I dont believe you can it the way we did 20 years ago, but there is a medium. Take everything a customer says they want with a grain of salt... If the customer wants to buy factory direct, I am more than willing to sell every car at MSRP, no haggling required. Lets not kid ourselves customers say that, because they think it would be a cheaper deal for them, they will give up a fun happy experience for a cheaper price point, ask Walmart.

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