Time to meet the changing face of customer service, experience and expectations head on
The car retailing model has developed what could be seen as an unhealthy obsession with linking increased sales to low prices.
For many, the sustainability of such an approach should be questioned because data demonstrates that price alone is not meeting the needs of most customers and is just continuing to erode dealer profitability. Convenience, speed and trust are what customers are looking for when buying a car and even in terms of costs, monthly budget – not price – leads the way for 92.4% of car buyers1.
Looking at other areas of retailing where many High Street retailers continue to face their own issues, the shift from in-store to online is to create a better, more enjoyable customer experience.
However, in creating a great customer experience in high-end value goods, the most effective route is one that embraces digital and showroom. This omni-channel model is not sales-led, it is buyer-led, designed to create a fast-flowing experience where the customer values both the product and the retailer. For some, the experience may be entirely online, but for many others, the human touch, their speed of reaction, expertise, enthusiasm and courtesy are all-important.
In the dealer environment, the same challenges that are so evident in UK High Streets are just as apparent and arguably more so in some cases, because the focus on price is so prominent in making deals happen. However, there are additional issues to consider, notably in FCA regulation of dealer finance, with its greater focus on good process, transparency and accountability. The FCA has highlighted that these often fall short of what is required.
The concerns raised by the FCA play to the broader shortcomings of the traditional dealer model in terms of its capacity to deliver a transparent and enjoyable customer experience. Following the FCA principle of creating good customer outcomes, this is not about price (provided it is fair and clear). Dealers are already making moves that will help to deliver a more sustainable model where customers choose to buy from a dealer, based upon the value they create and deliver and this momentum must continue.
Pursuing an experience-led proposition will not just be a ‘cut and paste’ decision; it has to be a cultural one. Led from the top of the business and supported by training, the new obsession should be about value-creation. This ethos needs to be delivered consistently across all channels and from all people. The right people are those (regardless of their role) who are engaged with helping the customer to buy a car and the support services that will benefit them. Car buyers will be buying our people and their experience as well as a car – this is value-creation in action.
This cultural shift then feeds through into a review of processes that customers can expect to experience; are they transparent, easy, frictionless, rapid and enjoyable? If not I believe we should re-design them so that they are.
None of this change is likely to be quick or easy; however, with the right help and support from suppliers who are committed to the same pathway to success – and the route outlined by the FCA – such a shift in approach is more likely and desirable, giving dealers the opportunity to reinvent themselves and create their own future success.