Car dealers and customer service – are the lessons being learnt?

Following a recent survey by Which? it appears that although there have been vast improvements in the sales process resulting in a much better experience for customers in after-sales, some dealers still aren’t getting the message. With an estimated 1,500 or more franchised dealers expected to close down this year, resulting in thousands of job losses, motor trade staff need to get with the programme when it comes to dealing with their precious customers. We have all heard the statistic that if you get good service you tell a few people but receive bad service and everyone gets to hear about it. It can never have been more relevant than it is at present but that could change with lots of experienced professional people, who give fantastic value for money to their employers losing their jobs in this downturn. The upshot of this is that employers in the motor trade will no longer need to employ the first person that turns up in a suit!

Buyers are now more aware than ever about what they should expect in the way of a good experience and indeed most car manufacturers actively reward dealers and staff who get the process right, so why is it that in the Which? snapshot sales people are still trying old tricks like the ‘deadline’ i.e. “if you don’t sign up now the deal won’t be there in the morning” and saying whatever the customer wants to hear when enticing them to the showroom when clearly the aim is to just convert a potential buyer into a car which suits the sales person and not necessarily the customer? Then there is the old chestnut of giving false or misleading information to gain a sale. Could it be a lack of training? Bad habits? Low basic salary but high commission structures? Just bad people being attracted by the perception of easy money? It could be a mixture of all these and whilst the vast majority of modern car sales people are well trained and motivated and indeed – according to some sales managers – far too laid back and friendly with their customers that they feel unable to ask them for their business!

It must also be said that the sales team is usually a reflection of the management and brand they represent and if these same people are not coached and managed properly. They are likely to have short term ambitions to just ‘smash and grab’ when selling cars, often leaving a trail of destruction behind them when they leave the company after 6 months of high volume, high profit selling. Unfortunately in any area of selling (just look at the banks) there will always be people with few morals happy to take what they can get without a thought for whether a car or deal is right for a customer. But for every one of them we believe that there are many more who want to make a difference and are there to offer outstanding service, it’s just that with nearly every company claiming to be “number 1” for customer service how do customers know who is actually delivering on that promise?

A final thought from a source in the trade who is responsible for a group of franchised car dealerships which employs more than 150 people, who pre-credit crunch decided to have a recruitment drive and advertised in a large news publication for staff across all departments and held court in a large hotel. Out of 500 or more replies 200 were invited for an informal interview and 50 were invited back for a more formal discussion. Out of this final batch 3 were offered jobs and 1 still remains employed by his company which not only shocked him but turned out to be an expensive exercise and, more worryingly, showed how little the motor trade seemed to excite potential employees. This may, in turn, go to show why many members of staff over recent years probably thought – and with some justification – that they were irreplaceable.

If the number of recent job losses is anything to go by let’s just hope that the bad apples are the ones losing their jobs for the sake of motor retailing in future.

We will have to wait for the next survey I guess!

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