Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Customer experience

Four years ago, I bought a car (no, it wasn't a Merc). The experience was a pretty good one, the deal was done and I went away happy. Four years later, I am still happy with that experience and its outcome. So, when it came time to make another car purchase, I returned to the same company, though at a car-yard in the next town over. When I went in, the company had a fair amount of goodwill credit - something I alerted them to so that they would know that I wasn't just there to kick tyres. They checked our history on their computer, understood that we were returning customers, and so the discussions began. Ultimately, I left without a purchase and probably won't be going back.

How did we get to this complete reversal? How did the company squander the goodwill they had created last time around? Three basic things come to mind:

1. Lack of preparation: the manager whom I spoke to on the phone the previous day (and who knew I was coming to look at a specific car) wasn't present nor had he briefed the staff that were on duty the day I arrived. Basically, they weren't ready to sell the car we wanted to buy - no one had thought it through and determined their bottom lines.
2. The staff on duty lacked authority to close a deal at anything other than the advertised sticker price. Faced with a high sticker price and a low-ball trade-in offer, there was no discussion to be had and nowhere left to go but out the door. This wasted my time and theirs.
3. No follow-through. Subsequently, the manager totally failed to pick up on the lost opportunity and to see whether it could be rectified or not. No call-back or follow up.

The company's motto is "home of the good sports". Well, I guess they were all out that day and someone else was house-sitting.

I don't care for myself, I can pick up the sort of car I want anywhere, at any time (and I will). But a part of my day job is considering customer experience and how my organisation can cause customers to come back time and again because they went away having had a good experience. In this case, my poor experience caused me to realise just how much a small slip in standards will impact the way I feel about a company. (Thanks for that - you just became a case study.)

In something as ubiquitous and competitive as car sales, the 'good experience' is one of the easiest differentiators for a company to access and yet some of the stereotypical "used car salesperson" attitudes and approaches are still the norm. Quite frankly, this is dinosaur thinking. Regardless of today's commercial realities and difficulties, good customer experience brings purchasers to your door, but one bad experience and they can be gone forever. Staff need the training to deliver that good experience, not just left to 'mind the yard' while the boss is away.

I'm not picking on this company especially - they just happen to have made themselves my experience - but there are plenty of second-hand car dealers that embrase the stereotypical used car salesperson meme. There are also quite a few general retailers that don't understand the impact of poor customer experience on their bottom line. I remember a low-price Australian retailer arriving in town several years ago - I brought a vacuum cleaner from them (at the right price) and have never been back since - simply because the experience of actually making the purchase was so awful. They are still there, shouting at their customers, I am not.

Customer experience matters - and if you have managed to create a good experience, then please don't throw it away on the back of a bad one. Just saying.

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