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A Tale Of Two Cars

A couple of weeks ago we looked at customer experience doled out by two very large companies – Netflix and Blockbuster. Today we turn our attention to customer experience offered by much smaller businesses – a couple of car dealers.

A friend of ours has just bought two cars (lucky her). One of the cars was a Mini Cooper S with 45,000 miles on the clock. Our friend favours buying on a lease. She claims it takes away the hassle of selling the car and it gives her peace of mind. The car was bought from a second-hand car dealer who organised the lease with an independent company. At the time of negotiating the lease the salesperson created quite some confusion. There was a complicated discussion about varying amounts that could be paid per month, the fixed or variable price of the car at the end of the term, and the amount to be deposited at the time of the purchase. In the end, our friend had no idea whether the deal was financially beneficial or not. She was left feeling that the complicated lease deal was putting a lot in the pocket of the salesman at her expense.

The argy-bargy over the lease took a couple of hours. Exhausted, she was ready to leave. She was given a key to the car and told by the salesperson that unfortunately there was only one key. A new one had to be ordered by her when she received the revised log book. It would cost her £250. She got into the car and, preparing to leave, she removed the plastic stickers that advertised the price of the vehicle. She noticed there was an overlay of two stickers. The bottom sticker advertised the car and bizarrely said "including two keys". She pointed this out to the salesperson who begrudgingly agreed to pay for the second key.

When the car was sat outside her house she took her time to admire it. She noticed that the headlights had condensation in them. This wasn’t good. In time the moisture would rust and degrade the reflectors. Replacing the sealed units was a couple of hundred pounds and she imagined that this would be covered by her extended warranty. You have probably guessed the next bit. Returning to the garage to ask for replacement headlights she was told the warranty didn't cover these items.

As it happens our friend likes buying cars and was given the task of acquiring a new Mercedes C class for her husband. She obtained a price for their existing Merc from one of those websites that say they buy any car for cash. It resulted in another long story. Following the online offer for the car she met a representative of the company in a car park where he went over the car with a fine tooth comb. He found a couple of chip marks in the paintwork which he claimed represented £1000 worth of work in the body shop. She walked away from the deal and phoned the Mercedes dealer who was supplying the new car. They offered a generous discount on a new C class and asked if there would be a trade in. On being told the mileage and condition of the trade-in the Merc garage offered a guaranteed price slightly better than the cash for cars charlatan. This meant that she and her husband could enjoy a drive to Carlisle, take delivery of the car, pass across the old one, and return smelling new leather and the delicate scent from a beautiful bunch of flowers on the back seat.

So what do we make of all this? The second-hand car dealer did a good selling job. And, once the deal was signed, they gave up any pretence of pleasing the customer. It must never have occurred to the salesman that failing to deliver on the finer points at the end of the transaction would leave the customer not only disgruntled, but angry and eager to tell the disaster story to anyone who would listen. In contrast the Mercedes dealer created a seamless transaction that made life easy for the customer and which was much valued.

We know that selling capital items can be a one off affair. However, people do buy cars again. What is more they talk about such experiences more often than they discuss the price of tomatoes. Word of mouth is hugely advantageous when it is positive and massively harmful when negative. We should never forget that selling is only the first part of the customer experience journey.


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