Customer Service in the Retail Market

The motor industry, like many other industries is being confronted by many changes and many of these changes will in fact cause complete disruption in the car market. These changes are being driven by changing consumer expectations as well as technological advancements.
At the heart of the industry is the end Consumer and I believe that in order stay competitive in the market, those manufacturers that are able to build strong relationships with the consumer, focused on carefully managed brand perceptions will be in a strong position to survive these changes if not come out on top.  One only has to look at the amount of information that is available on the web today which serves to provide the consumer with relevant information about his/her purchase decision ( The JD Power CSI Surveys are a case in point)
However, let’s look a little closer to home.  What is it that motor vehicle retailers need to focus on to provide the sort of experience that the Customer is looking for when buying a new or used car in today’s market.

  1. Know your Customer.

In a recent example at my current dealership, I was looking at trading in my car for new one.  Sitting with the Sales Executive she was in the process of finalizing my quote for a new car, when the Dealer Principal arrived in the office. ( I must admit that the Dealer Principal and I know each other fairly well).  When the Dealer Principal asked the Sales Executive, which car she was preparing a quote for he replied as follows:
“ This is the wrong vehicle for this Customer!  Have you asked him what his requirements are, and if so you would have discovered that the car that you are preparing a quote for will not suit his lifestyle requirements.  If you sell him this car, we will loose a lifetime Customer.  I would rather you sell him a less expensive vehicle that suits his lifestyle better and then give us the opportunity to retain the client for a lifetime, than sell him a vehicle that does not suit his lifestyle for now and we the stand a chance of losing him to another brand when he replaces this vehicle.”
I was impressed to say the least.  The lesson here is as follows:

  1. At each purchase decision, get to know your Customer intimately.  Understand the some of the following:
    1. What does he intend using the vehicle for?
    2. How many kilometers does he travel per annum?
    3. What are his/her hobbies and how will this affect the choice of vehicle that is being purchased?
    4. What other vehicles foes he or his spouse own if any?
    5. What are his budgetary requirements – for capital purchase as well as after sales costs?
    6. How frequently does he plan to change his vehicle?
  1.  After Sales Service

In today’s technological age with advanced Dealer Management Systems and CRM systems, there is no excuse for not being able to keep in touch with client after he has made the purchase decision.  Following up on service intervals, pre-empting service intervals and assisting clients with the scheduling of these is critical.  One of the biggest bugbears that I have in dealing with service centres is the non-availability of a courtesy car if I have requested one well in advance and secondly being made to wait for a long time prior to being provided with a lift back to the office.  
It is critical to keep the customer informed of the progress being made whilst the car is being serviced.  It is insufficient to only contact the Customer, when you are requiring approval on a quote for repairs.  

  1. Use of Technology

There many opportunities to improve Customer experience at service interval time using technology and tablets etc.
First of all, make sure that the Customers details are correctly captured on the CRM systems to eliminate the need to capture the same information at each service interval.  I don’t know how many times I had to correct the contact details on their systems  prior to them getting it right.  This is inexcusable.
In summary, providing good Customer service is not rocket science.  The best way to determine what you Customers are experiencing is to conduct “phantom – shopping” exercise on your own business.  This will give you clear understanding of what needs to be addressed.