So a couple of months ago, Lorraine and I headed out to our local Jeep dealership. And thus began an excellent case study in how NOT to treat your customers.
When we arrived, I told the salesman I wasn’t going to buy anything that day. But the salesman cornered me into a negotiation anyway. I sat in an uncomfortable chair for most of the afternoon while this fellow disappeared time and again, emerging each time with a new lower price written on a sheet of paper.
After several rounds of this, I thanked him, told him, again, I didn’t intend to buy a Jeep that day, and went home with my piece of paper to think about it, with a promise the price would still stand. A couple of days later, I phoned him up to say I was ready to buy and would be over shortly. I hoped then this would be an easy transaction and my shiny new car would be waiting for me!
However, when I got to the dealership, my salesman told me they could no longer sell me the Jeep at the price we’d agreed to! The manager (who supposedly approved the price in the first place) said it really shouldn’t have happened – the car costs the dealership more than that. I was furious over the bait and switch and the wasted day of negotiating. I’d have walked out if it wasn’t for Lorraine, who persuaded me to stick with it. Eventually they did sell me the Jeep at the price we’d agreed to!
But why did it have to be so bloody painful? It should be a marvelous thing – driving a shiny new car off the lot. Instead, by the time I got my Jeep, I hardly wanted it anymore. The dealership’s horrid tactics left me feeling angry and disappointed and had ruined the whole experience. These are NOT the emotions that should be evoked in a good Customer Experience.
Customer Experience at its Worst
The really appalling thing is, my story is neither unique or unusual. Everyone who’s ever bought a car has a story like this. In fact, I have a story like this, involving awful negotiation tactics, missed deadlines, and a Lincoln salesman who had the gall to complain when I didn’t rate him a perfect “10.”
I also have a story of a great car buying experience, and it was at CarMax, the used car company. CarMax doesn’t haggle over price. The car costs what it says it does. You can browse the lot and focus on features and value, without dreading the confusing and stressful negotiation to come. Buying from them is a pleasure. CarMax has been wildly successful. So has Tesla, which also offers cars at a fixed price, bypassing the dealership model altogether.
So why do most dealers still subject us to this painful and sleazy negotiation process? Don’t they understand how much we hate it?
According to news accounts, they are starting to, though they’re moving at a sloth’s pace to do anything about it. Luxury car makers in particular are rolling out some encouraging new initiatives aimed at making things better – albeit only for the select few.
Lexus, for example, introduced a fixed-price program called Lexus Plus last year. Among its perks, the program ensures that you only have to deal with one person throughout your transaction. If you’re lucky, your local Lexus dealer is one of the 10 participating nationwide.
Lincoln, meanwhile, aims to make car buying more convenient for its most affluent customers, who it says are pressed for time (unlike the rest of us?). If you can afford its Black Label program, sales people come to you, and you deal with one person from beginning to end.
But Will They Really Change?
The luxury car makers are taking steps in the right direction, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the changes will trickle down to the rest of the industry.
The reason is that truly improving the car buying experience (or any customer experience) requires the right mindset. Change means developing a companywide belief system that values customers and sees exceptional customer experience as a key factor driving value and loyalty. Salespeople and finance directors and that mysterious manager in the back office must be empowered to do what it takes to make the experience terrific.
Most car dealerships are light years away from this. Compensation and incentives are based on sales volume, and that is seldom a winning strategy in any industry. And the crazy thing is, we’ve seen that car companies can be successful and profitable while still making their customers happy.
I love my Jeep now. But the next time I need a car, I’m going to CarMax.
What’s your worst car buying experience? Please share it in the comments section below.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX