We constantly read the statistics on how our customers are using the internet when shopping for their next vehicle. Yes, we too are consumers but it’s not the same since we can purchase our vehicles in house or have a home field advantage by knowing the business. It’s easy to forget, working at the dealer day in and day out, how much influence the internet really has our customers shopping for their next vehicle.
- What websites are they researching on?
- Are they just price shopping?
- Are we really listening to our customers?
- Will a quick generic response to their request for more information be sufficient?
As much as I view DealerRefresh as a B2B blog, I’d happily welcome more feedback from consumers on the other side of the fence. So I was excited to have received an email from one of "your customers". Steve felt inspired to share with us his last experience shopping for a vehicle. Here it is in its entirety.
I came across your site and like it a lot. I am not in the car business, but have recently purchased several cars. I was going to post on why I used the internet and how, but thought, I am not in the business. I did not want to post against your rules, so I will submit it to you, and you can post it for me if you would like:
I have recently bought two cars, and both times I started out Online. I read Earl Veteran’s comments and got to thinking back about how and why I had bought these cars. What I liked, and more importantly what I did NOT like.
1. I liked the internet. A LOT! Its anonymous, so its safer to make a decision. Safer you ask? Yes, the car business is a very adversarial business, with me, the consumer as the target! And I have to say, the more I learn, the more I do NOT like it. And the more I learn, the more I prefer to make the decisions in private, as opposed to in a sales cubicle, sitting for 15 minutes at a time as salesmen shuttle in and out from the managers office.
2. I shopped price first. Why not? NO amount of customer service will make up for me finding out my neighbor paid $10,000.00 less for the exact same car from the exact same salesman on the exact same day. I would feel cheated if that happened. (Maybe the car business should look back and wonder how high the "feel cheated" threshold is for the average customer)
3. I found that the higher end brands were moving more toward a "customer partnership" type atmosphere than the lower end, even during the sales process. Would not a feeling of "we are in the business of providing you what you want and need" to be something you want as the first reaction of your customers, when asked about you?
I started at Edmunds.com looking for types of vehicles to compare. My impression of them is that there are lots of "real consumers" willing to share their experiences. There is some chaff with the wheat, but hey, its the internet, you expect that. I can get a rough estimate of the market price, monthly payments assuming various interest rates, and a small peak into what "owning" the car was like as well as the buying process from any particular dealership. I have not owned this particular brand before, so I had no past relationships. But, to be fair, I am old, have owned others brands, and still did not repeat purchase (perhaps brand loyalty is not such a given anymore?). Then I moved to other forums dedicated to the brands I was researching.
I then emailed about ten dealers. Why not, email is free. I was willing to travel pretty far to save some real money, so I asked about the car, gave my cell phone, and waited. Calls right away! Told them exact color, model, year, etc. no trade in to worry about, no finance option yet, no payments, just a price please. And I waited.
First off, I was NOT impressed! By how poorly most listened to what I wanted, and their energy at NOT getting back to me! I guess asking for a car at a "reasonable price" was too much? I told one guy I only wanted black (actually told all of them that) and he calls back and tells me he found a car for me to test drive. Tells me all about it. A green one???? He is still emailing me six months later! Some never responded. NONE emailed me back with anything personalized to my needs.
So I am put off, but hey, its not like I wasted a lot of time driving around. This time I emailed the internet guy at the brand I preferred. The gist of my email?
"I am a poor consumer, who can probably not afford your cars, but possibly, maybe, I could. Plus, I am a loyal customer…once I buy who will have all service work done by you"
According to Earl, this is heresy. Not worth his time to even deal with. But….charity does exist in my world! And a pretty laid back guy got back to me, with a price I could handle, I checked Edmunds for price paid/buying experience, and the price was really, really good. No haggling, just a good, no a great price. So I bought. Emailed him back, went in next day to pick it up.
I was deciding between the Avalon for its back seat room, and the Lexus 350 for other factors. But the key for me was the difference in the quality between the two sales forces. Guess which one called me back for the green one? Which one offered to have me drive 60 miles to test drive a vehicle I already knew completely? For me the entire process was almost schizophrenic. Why would the same manufacturer have such different processes? And if its obvious which one I preferred, why would so few other dealers imitate it?
Most of all, I wonder why so many other car dealers treat their potential customers so badly? I do feel that it seems to be "smart business" to try and corner a market if you can. I see 30 different badges with the same ownership group in Wash, DC, and realize that their costs are way down compared to single shops due to their economies of scale. So, why would you want to high pressure this same captive audience. (I live in Texas now, but went in one once, way back when. The girl was sobbing that if I did not talk to the manager before leaving she would be "fined"). On another note, why do some car dealer think the public is stupid, that we really believe some multi millionaire employs some nitwit who bought TOO MUCH inventory!
Now I am NOT saying the techniques do not work. They obviously must, right? But what about opportunity costs? How much are you leaving on the table by only doing it one way, the same old way? Websites with little info, stock photos, endless quote forms? Hmm, been there, done that. And from your end as well. Hiring the same old internet guy, and then hassling with him about pay? Here is a question for y’all? Why pay him based on sales? Does the IT guy at IBM need to have a customer say they "bought off the web" for him to get a salary? How much quality difference is there between the head of IBM IT, and the IT head of Checkered Flag? (Sorry Alex, but I like your thinking, and thought you could use a tweak.) Do you pay your receptionists based on how many buyers called first?
Anyone go into a restaurant and EXPECT great service? How about just average? Does anyone think that if the restaurants just paid a decent wage, and had managers good enough to be able to tell good waiters from bad, they would increase customer satisfaction? Or lower turnover? I could have used the car model, but hey, to me the consumer, its the same. Same lame so-called pro’s to deal with. Same lame experience. I do NOT have the answers, but I could point to some things. Thing is…how good are y’all as a group if you cannot find them yourselves?
Kind of a challenge.
These are tough times, with serious issues in the car business. It takes serious people to accomplish this. So, Mr. Doing-Business-As-Usual, your 15 minutes are up. I’m Joe consumer, and I AM the President! (loosely taken from "American President" (Michael Douglas) speech near end of movie)