Opinions & Advice

Being a customer is tough

I was born into a dealer group.  I never knew what it was like to be a real dealership customer.  That all changed when I moved from Virginia to Vermont.  I’ve been paying retail for service, tried to make a deal with a local dealership, and actually listed a car on Autotrader.com all as a consumer.  It has been eye-opening!  And I now fully appreciate why consumers perceive us to be monsters.

I write this article solely to educate and hope my experiences will at least inspire you to remove your dealer glasses and put on your customer glasses to look at your own operation.

Servicing my cars has been fairly standard, but one of the stores I go to has a luxury brand and a volume brand operating together.  The luxury customers have the red carpet rolled out while the volume customers are obviously (and loudly) treated quite poorly.  It actually hurts the experience for both customers.

One store’s sales department is a very typical sales department.  It has a sales tower and the men in that tower make it very obvious they’ve risen to the rank of manager so they no longer have a need to communicate with customers.  The sales agents have been brainwashed into thinking this is acceptable behavior, and are quick to tell you the manager can’t talk to you even though he’s sitting 5 feet away.  Does that sound familiar? 

In the interest of time, I went through the Internet department to see if they’d buy one of my cars “off the street.”  They were excited to get this car because they’re tough to come by at the auctions right now.  The Internet manager was also excited to have a sure appointment – I assume he is paid on them.  I was completely upfront about who I was, my experience in the industry, and that I was completely willing to work around their schedules; preferring to come in at their least busiest time of the day.  I even left the car with them for 3 days because they wanted to do their research.  Once the research was done they made me an offer and we swiftly came to a price agreement.  I then gave them my account information so they could pay my car off directly, and I received an email a few hours later saying they needed to readjust their offer because they missed something in their research.  They offered me $200 over my payoff.  We were thousands higher originally.  I didn’t say anything; just grabbed my car and moved on.

Now I’m subscribed to every single email and mail blast this dealer group does for every single brand they sell.  I literally receive at least 1 email a day with offers for sales, service, and asking me to be a part of their charities.  These emails come from their service CRM, sales CRM, and another well known email-specific platform.  I wonder how many times I will have to unsubscribe in order to get off of all their different lists.  Crazy!

And then we come to Autotrader.com.  I figured I don’t want to get too involved with other dealers now, so I’m doing things myself.  Listing a car on Autotrader is not the easiest thing to do.  I’m not going to dive in will my usability insight, but all I can say is the process is not consumer-friendly.  And I’m someone who has added and edited more cars in more inventory management systems than I can count.  On top of that, I’m slammed with all sorts of BS offers to help sell my car which are now putting all Autotrader emails into my junk box.  I am getting a lot of offers, but I’m missing a few of them because they’re going into my junk box too.

Anyway, I just wanted to rant a little bit.  It is tough being a consumer and the whole thing adds up to a sour taste in my consumer mouth.

P.S.  No, I’m not your typical consumer.  No, I didn’t meet a salesman.  Yes, the coin-operated machine is getting in the way.

Who knew an argument with Jeff Kershner, in 2005, would lead to Alex becoming a partner with him on DealerRefresh. Where will the next argument take ...
  • J
  • May 24, 2012
Just lay down already, stop going against the flow Alex!Funny but not funny.  Good luck buddy!
  • J
    Joe Webb
  • May 24, 2012
Alex, your experience typifies the problem that consumers (and we as progressive car people) have with the dealership operations still in existence at stores nationwide.  From class warfare to internal title hierarchy on the showroom floor, dealers continue to put their own agendas before that of the consumer.  And we are one of the few industries still willingly perpetuating the very stereotypes we've come to hate of us.As I write endlessly and train even more, I urge dealers to stop thinking like dealers and start thinking about the customers.  No where in your blog was the word "profit" mentioned, so that may not have been a focal point for any of the dealership employees, BUT it sounds like the typical, antagonistic, back and forth, lack of transparency is still thriving. A dealership changing their business model or their (as it has never been explained to them correctly) "culture" must recognize that often the customer's very goal would IMPROVE the way they operate rather than unravel it.  While I'm all for maintaining control in a retail environment of the process, every situation can be streamlined or made more transparent in sales and service departments.  Until dealers put the customers' agendas before their own archaic expectations, this same experience that you dealt with will continue to live on.     Sad. 
  • J
  • May 24, 2012
Sounds like a squirrel to me... ;)
  • K
  • May 25, 2012
Spot on Alex - great write-up. I am constantly preaching "remember what it is like to be a customer", as it seems the longer we are in the industry, the less we remember what it is like to buy a car or get service from a dealership. I could write several paragraphs on how we could do things better, but I learned something in Sunday School many years ago that I think would solve everything - "do unto others as you would have them do unto you..."
Thanks for the insight, Alex. We at ActivEngage included your post in our weekly round-up of the best auto blogs:  http://livechat.ae/top10may25  
It's easy to forget how frustrating the buying/search process can be if we're always focused on the sale.
  • M
    Mason DeJarnett
  • June 13, 2012
The "old-school" dealerships are alive and well, and it's a shame. Sometimes, the dealership is actually forward thinking and putting the customer first, but there is a bad seed on the team not representing well when approaching the customer. It starts with the hiring phase, making sure you are adding the team member who is on board with your corporate personality. Sometimes, there are still the ones you miss, or a great employee becomes burnt out. Managers have to stay on top of the interactions and make sure that the sales team is representing the dealership as it should. A simple way to do that is to talk to the customer instead of hiding behind the desk as a manager. When the manager interacts with the customer and explains to them what is going on behind the curtains, they begin to feel more involved in the process, and part of the team. I know that when I am the customer, I want to be educated through every step in the process.