People fall in love with cars, not dealerships, on the whole. But usually the only touchpoint they have with the brand they’ve fallen for is with the local garage or dealer where they bought it.
And that dealership is often an independent business. Its motivation and objectives may even be counter to those of the brand it represents, according to customer satisfaction monitor JD Power.
Mark Lendrich who conducted JD Power’s most recent research into the car industry said: “There is a disconnect between the car companies and their dealers. The dealer’s main focus is on selling cars. One of the main findings of our study is that it should be about personal relationships and pampering existing customers.”
The survey found that nearly two thirds (61 per cent) of customers had to wait to be greeted when they arrived at a dealership. Yet consumers say this very basic point of politesse can improve satisfaction by 48 points. That might not seem like much in a survey where car makers could score 1000 points. But it represents the difference between Toyota in first place and Fiat in 21 st .
So how does a car maker ensure its dealerships adopt local marketing best practice and are more typical of the brand they represent? Doing what they say they’re going to do would be a start. Darren Young, business development director for the Customer Service Network, explained: “If one thing doesn’t happen, the next thing that doesn’t becomes a bigger problem. Even if these are all small things, the customer will start to make a mental list of what’s gone wrong.
“I’ve been trying to book my car in for a service. They’ve promised to ring me back three times and I’m still waiting. That’s a classic failing. If you say you will do something and then don’t do it, you are setting the relationship back a level or two. The most successful organisations follow up on all the promises they make.”
Douglas Stafford specialises in sending customers into car dealerships and then recording their experiences, what’s known as mystery shopping. The company’s chief executive Nigel Cook said: “When it comes to aftersales, training in handling customers comes second to technical knowledge. Really the training should focus on how staff can build relationships with customers. I would want someone in the dealership to know who I am and understand what I want when I take my car in.”
Personalisation of service is one of the keys, agreed JD Power’s Mark Lendrich: “Not all consumers are the same. Some want an explanation of what’s going to happen when their car is serviced and then to see all the work that’s been done. Others just want to drop their car off and pick it up later. The trouble is dealerships aren’t set up to individualise service. It’s a one size fits all model.”
That one size patently doesn’t fit all. The JD Power survey found the average score for the best manufacturer, Toyota, was 776 out of 1000. It was a point ahead of Honda and two up on Mercedes-Benz. It also found that when its satisfaction ranking is between 600 and 799, only 23 per cent of people are likely to return to that dealership.
Caroline Murie from customer service expert Walton Murie thinks the solution is to go back to basics: “Businesses can operate in their own little bubble. They simply need to take the customer’s point of view.” It’s a fundamental that the JD Power survey results suggest many car dealerships would do well to follow.
James Foxall is a communications professional and copywriting specialist
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