Mike Humble is wondering why despite their constant cries of tough trading times and badly needing to shrug off reputations of poor practices in the trade, dealers and sales staff just don’t seem to care or want our business…
The typical car salesperson in most peoples eyes, is often thought about with similar fear and distrust as swimming with sharks or watching a party political broadcast. Just like Politicians and sharks, a car salesperson is indeed part of life’s food-chain – in other words, loath them we may do but we cannot live without them. In many cases I have defended them, partly because I have done the job and partly because most of the ones I have known on the whole ply their craft and do it well.
Once, they could sell you a car with complete disregard for the law and ram some ridiculous finance packages into the bargain and it was also not unknown for the exec to earn more than the dealer principle. Those days are long gone with the Financial Services Authority (FSA) keeping a watchful eye on all transactions or finance deals under £25.000. The modern sales person has to undertake FSA accreditation before they can ‘legally’ sell a car or related finance and that includes the finance & insurance based policies like GAP protection.
We would laugh a while back at TV characters like Swiss Tony or Frank Butcher even though their smooth and charming had dark secrets behind them, they weren’t far off the average pedaller of motor cars. They had time served experience, a gift of the gab, knew the trade inside out and what made customers tick – you only lost the shirt off your back if you allowed them to. On the whole they were good fun guys to know or work with and their managers would often work the floor too just keep a hand in.
It was not uncommon for some to work on a purely commission only wage so their demeanour and attitudes were both pencil sharp – the best enjoyed the good life while the rest simply went hungry. You can now buy a car in a supermarket, on the net or even from your mobile phone which means the traffic walking into the average showroom has decreased massively over the last 15 years. Taking this into account, you would think that practices and customer service would be at an all time high.
Even more so if you consider we are now only just coming out of a truly disastrous recession, but this is seemingly not the case and its been demonstrated time and time again. Every now and then, I love to wander into a random car showroom, not to waste their time but to just soak up the atmosphere and see how they work the floor. I play the browsing punter, ask a few questions and scoot spending no more than five to ten minutes – a salesman’s time is very precious but that brief period is an education.
I have perused the premium cars and meandered around the mainstream and it seems most of them cannot be bothered to acknowledge your presence, look like a professional salesperson or in some cases, even have any member of staff on the premises. Once I stumbled into a quiet Mazda dealer where in all the ten minutes I sauntered around the outdoor pitch and showroom, saw no one in sight. The exec had left his desk drawer half open where I noted a few sets of keys, a mobile phone and a wallet – I could have had a field day in there!
A Citroen dealer I visited had a full compliment of staff on hand that totally ignored me for almost 15 minutes and only spoke to me when I approached a sales desk and asked a question – his computer screen showed his Ebay account too I kid you not. When the other half’s car was due to be changed a little while back, we nipped into a local Renault showroom and were equally sent to Coventry, so much for the hard times I so often hear dealer groups bickering on about – my heart bleeds for them.
Its not only myself who finds this either. I hear the same stories time after time about shoddy salesman, dodgy dealers and customers being ignored. Yes its true we all hate pushy execs in cheap suits but just the same, we like to be acknowledged if not appreciated from time to time. The current lack of experience and attitude from so many dealerships provide the ammunition to the countless internet sales sites that fire a salvo into the showrooms. But oddly enough the public actually do prefer the old fashioned way.
People enjoy dealing face to face and would rather commit to a new car purchase by a meaty shake of the hand than by a click of the mouse in my experience. The main problem with many dealer groups is that they refuse to accept the fact that staff retention is worth its weight in gold. Instead, they recruit ex mobile phone reps who still live with mum and dad for a crumby basic but throw in a company car. They more often than not do some deals to close family members and friends and when the sales run dry – they’re sacked.
The process then starts again… and again, keep an eye on your local paper situation vacant section – I’ll bet you’ll see the same dealers advertising for the same roles with alarming regularity. Move up the tree a little bit and it gets no better with the sales manager. Whereby once they ruled the floor with an iron rod akin to Captain Peacock looking refined and respectful, they now hide in a back office only showing their acne pimpled faces if they think your customer is walking off without buying there and then.
Another thing to ponder over are the manufacturers themselves. In a time where profit margins are slimmer than a razor blade, manufacturers are going to great lengths to make appealing cars. To go further, nobody makes a really bad car in the present day but the car itself is often judged by the dealer groups. The makers need to play a much bigger part safeguarding their multi-million pound investments by taking a hands on role with the dealer groups forging a bigger and more beneficial relationship with the end user – you the customer.
The motor trade is sadly lacking the experience of a few good men that could make it so good again for everyone concerned, but they seem to be unable to recognise this and refuse to adapt to changing market forces. Good customer service and the almost guaranteed repeat or recommended sale has to be worth something more in value in the medium term than breaking your arm to agree to the super dooper fabric and paint protection. Service with a smile and unbroken promises make money, churning the staff and burning the customer? need I say any more?