I guess you can say that I’ve been in the new car market for a while now. My current car has about a quarter million miles and has served my faithfully for well over a decade. In fact, I’ve probably been looking at new cars off-and-on again for about ten years but I hate the process so much that I’ve just been avoiding the ordeal.
Last week, NPR aired a story on Why Buying a Car Never Changes. It was interesting to hear how the bad mix of over-regulation and stubborn dealership practices created the mess that we’re in. Very few people believe that the process is a good one: high-pressure sales, a multitude of fine print items, the fear of over-paying, and so on. Most people who have apprehensions do so with good reason: they believe that the power rests in the dealer’s hands.
What can we do to shift the paradigm? Here’s how a few local dealers in my area try and address it:
- One dealer’s slogan claims, “Where salaried salespeople see it you way,” implying that their sales staff are not driven by commission, and therefore, are happy to present offer the best deal possible every time. But it’s well-known that even if the sales staff are “on salary,” most of their income is still based on commission…and the staff definitely acts the part as well.
- Another dealer advertises that they have “No Bulls**t Pricing,” that what they advertise is the best that can be done. However, their prices are often higher than other dealerships.
- Yet another claims that they are the area’s “largest inventory dealer,” even though that does not mean that they treat customers well.
How does one change a stereotype or shift the paradigm of expectations for an experience? How does a non-profit organization show that they are a worthy cause as well as a fiscally-responsible organization?
This is what I’d suggest:
- Stop Treating Customers Like Prospects. Instead, treat them like partners. So instead of pressuring someone to accept a financing deal and extended warranty or cornering them to donate, do a better job making them feel valued.
- Avoid Marketing Clichés. Speak to the person in ordinary language, stop using slogans or “sales language.” Remember Jeffory Gitomer’s adage, “People love to buy but they hate to be sold.”
- People Love Transparency. In a web 2.0 world, people enjoy appreciate organizations that are transparent, open, and honest. If you don’t know the answer, admit it. If you know that they can get a better deal elsewhere, either meet the price or tell them where they should go instead. Sure, it’s a little risky but you’ll end up with strong referrals and a customer for life instead of someone who is left wondering if they should have tried someone else.
- Protect Your Reputation. When looking at Yelp, Google Places, and other online review sites at dealerships, it surprises me how few actually take the time out to address concerns or complaints. The internet is the new billboard: what are others saying about you? A little customer service can go a long way.
- Fix Your Website. Most local car dealerships have the worst websites I can find online: they have incessant pop-up windows, animated chat icons, some even have blinking .gifs or other artwork that obscure search results. We get it, you have an online chat function…but that doesn’t mean it should pop up on every single page or distract from the primary information being searched for,
Whether you are buying a car or buying a suit, there are some basic rules of decency that should be adhered to for all customers. Unfortunately, until the mentality of dealership franchises change, there will always be millions of unsatisfied, frustrated customers who are reluctant to buy.