The Golding family car – a Renault Grand Espace we affectionately call ‘the beast’ – is reaching the end of its life. Despite transporting us to all corners of the UK; the entire length of France; and from La Coruna to Barcelona and Menorca in Spain; all good things come to an end. We have both accepted that the time has come to find a replacement.
In looking for a new car, we identified a small number of criteria:
- Seven seats
- The three rear seats to be separate (in many cars, the middle ‘seat’ is not actually a proper seat)
- Sufficient boot space for Rosie (the dog)
- All the usual mod cons (DAB radio; Bluetooth; cruise control etc..)
We do not think we are asking for too much. There are a number of seven seat cars on the market in the UK and most of them tick all of the boxes we identified. When we started our investigation, it was interesting to discover just how similar the cars were. For example, did you know that the Ford Galaxy, Seat Alhambra and Volkswagen Sharan are all built on the same chassis? They are basically the same thing. Whilst there are differences in type of engine and vehicle interior, three different brands of motor vehicle are almost identical.
Historically, many industries have been completely comfortable creating ‘value propositions’ that differentiate themselves, exclusively based on the quality of the product or service. The motor industry is just one of those. Relying on the ‘reputation’ of the brand, they have just expected customers to come through the door because they sold what we wanted. The battleground for the consumer ‘share of wallet’ was very much fought on traditional marketing grounds, through advertising and promotion.
In reality, the motor industry, like any other, needs to recognise that the world has changed. No longer can any organisation rely on the strength of its product and service alone. My wife and I experienced this for ourselves last week. We decided to visit three car dealerships on the same day. Inchcape Volkswagen; Evans Halshaw Ford; and Lindop Toyota. We wanted to look at three seven seat cars – the Volkswagen Sharan; the Ford Galaxy; and the Toyota Verso. Three cars that essentially ticked all of the basic requirement boxes. What we discovered is that the decision to buy a car goes far beyond the product.
Our first stop was at Inchcape Volkswagen in Chester. From the minute we stepped foot in the showroom, it became clear how we were to be treated as customers. A lovely smiling lady greeted us – not sitting behind a desk, but unencumbered by any barrier. She asked us how they could help and without any fuss introduced us to a sales advisor. We were impressed – although at this stage, we thought that the experience we were having should be normal! The sales advisor, Max, was very knowledgeable. Like us, he has more than two children and understood the importance of having the space a seven seat car affords. Our fifteen minute conversation with Max was enjoyable – he did not try to sell us the car – he listened to our questions and answered them. We left with a very good feeling – not just about the car, but about the dealer as well – the WHOLE EXPERIENCE gave us confidence and peace of mind.
Next stop was Lindop Toyota in Queensferry. There is not a lot to say about our experience here. Looking around the showroom and the forecourt, it was like we had been transported into the movie set of ‘The Shining’. Not a single member of staff approached us. I am not sure what they were doing, but there was little evidence they were interested in speaking to customers. All we were able to do was look at the Toyota Verso through the windows of locked vehicles. We were not impressed.
Our final stop was to Evans Halshaw Ford back in Chester. When we drove past earlier in the day, we noticed a brand new Ford Galaxy on the forecourt – we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to compare the vehicle with the other two we had seen. We drove in to the car park of Evans Halshaw and parked next to the Galaxy we wanted to look at. As we got out of our car, we were shouted at by a member of staff – ‘you can’t park there’, the man exclaimed. ‘That’s not customer parking’, he said. I was extremely close to getting back in our car and leaving altogether. Does it really matter where a potential customer parks – a customer who may spend £20,000 to £30,000 with you?
My wife is a little more understanding than me and persuaded me to stay. The Galaxy was locked, so I entered the showroom to find someone who could help us. I walked in to a room full of men and women sitting behind desks. Not a single one of them lifted their heads as I entered. They looked like a group of estate agents. I wandered into another part of the showroom where two sales agents were busy with customers. No-one seemed as though they wanted to help. I went back to where I started (the estate agents) – this time a woman did look up and asked if she could help. I explained that we wanted to look at the Galaxy – she said that the only people that could help were the two men already with customers. I did not have the energy to ask her what the hordes of people behind desks were actually there for.
It transpired that the man who had shouted at us for parking in the wrong place had the keys to the Galaxy. It was a new car due to be delivered to a customer. He opened it for us but forbid us to get in it. I had lost interest by this point. As we drove away, it became very clear how we were going to make our buying decision.
In an industry were the products are so similar, what we saw last week was the emerging battleground that Customer Experience has become. It is extremely likely that we will be buying a Volkswagen Sharan. Not because the car is that much better than the others, but because we have confidence that Inchcape Volkswagen will be able to deliver an END TO END EXPERIENCE that will meet our needs and expectations. Inchcape seem to understand that this is important – right now, they are fighting a battle without any competition. How long will it take the others to realise that they need to be on the battleground as well.
This story highlights the significance of really understanding the importance of Customer Experience – it does not matter if you are an airline or a pharmaceutical company – the product or service is no longer your number 1 differentiator – Customer Experience is!
A very clear and simple way to explain how CX becomes the real diferentiation when products or services become really similar. Fully agree with you.
By the way, our family car is a Renault Space too and after 12 years and more than 200.000 Km its becoming to the end of its life. Thanks for your advice!!
Thanks for your kind words Juan. The real shame is that Renault are not making the new Grand Espace for the UK market 🙁
Had the same experience Ian. I was upgrading my car on a PCP arrangement and went to BMW and Audi and had the same experience pretty much as you in Toyota and Ford in terms of being ignored. Ended up looking in Jaguar not even thinking i could afford one but the end to end experience was amazing. Got me a good deal, listened, lovely coffee and biscuits throughout the process and a bouquet of flowers and spa treatment when i not surprisingly chose them to purchase from. On my second one now and even better is the experience is no different if you are simply turning up to get your car serviced
Thanks for sharing Lloyd – and yet another great example of the customer experience in action. Not a bad way to end up either – my Jack thinks Jaguar’s are ‘cool’!
Your view on the importance of the end to end experience certainly resonates with my recent experience buying a new car. In this case I was tempted out of my love for BMW’s by the idea of a Jaguar, but was completely put off by the lack of interest of the salesman (surprising, eh?). Ringing up for a test drive, he didn’t want me to come in on my preferred day as he was not in that day. Begrudgingly he set up my test drive (with a colleague who is a fan of BMW – how bizarre is that?) and then failed to follow up with me in the following days. When I rang and left a message it took him a further 3 days to get back in touch with me. Meanwhile BMW were delivering the ‘end-to-end’ service you describe and I closed the deal with them, despite being really enticed by the drive of the Jaguar. So Jaguar have upped their game in terms of the actual car, but until they get their staff to properly engage with their potential customers they won’t be getting my business for sure.
Many thanks for sharing your experience Jonathan – it sadly seems to be so common. Hopefully, the more we share our experiences publicly, the more will change. I am forever the optimist!
Ian your experience is like many I have had over the years. I have as you well know bought so many cars and vans I have lost count. Sales people just use you as a way to earn a decent wage always remember that . They don’t care about you as a person or your family. But every now and again you do get someone who does. Think you have been lucky in your experience this time.
Having bought cars recently I recognise the experiences, which in one way is depressing as with one of the cars I wanted, a Toyota, the buying experience was so bad i walked out. The others were different in many ways and I was even argued with at the Peugeot dealership when i said their car was uncomfortable, it was and probably still is. I settled for a Nissan Qashqai, unfortunately the journey doesn’t stop there with the dealership service not being the best, but then when compared to others its ok. The other side of this equation is that there is an enormous consultancy opportunity for CX professionals with car dealerships, I wonder if any of them recognise the need yet?
A great example relevant to many industries, especially where the product is, to the layperson, near enough the same. What you describe builds in elements of trust, emotional intelligence, empathy, rapport and more. And if the post sale experience continues their good work I’m sure you’ll be a customer for life, and repeat advocate!
Great article Ian. I wish more executives understand this
Well detailed and explanatory.Customer experience can not be bought, its a skill that is in born.Thanks for sharing.
Delighted to hear you had a great experience with Inchcape. I remember working with them to create the prototype for their CX model back in 2004, for Ken Lee, then Marketing Director for the UK business.
We ran something new for them called NPS 🙂 and they were shocked at their score of -4%
The pilot became the blueprint for what was eventually rolled out globally.
I still vividly remember running customer focus groups in their showrooms, and hearing how people craved for the perfect balance of attentive service when you wanted it, and to be left alone to ponder when you didn’t 🙂
They have become the benchmark for independent dealers, and what Ken has achieved there is nothing short of outstanding. A great case study, and fab to hear your own experience lives up to it.
Thankfully not all car dealers and estate agents are tarred with the same brush, but I find it amazing that so many of these businesses still miss this vital opportunity to differentiate themselves. It seems that often the bigger the purchase (e.g. house, car, lawyers) the lower the desire to make an effort to give customers a good experience!
How familiar an experience that is! So often as customers we are treated like we are inferior or a nuisance….especially in the Car industry.
I had a terrible experience with Nissan (Westway) in Manchester. They didn’t believe we wanted to genuinely buy the car….we couldn’t test drive it and left feeling totally humiliated. Not only did they lose the sale of a sports car, they totally underestimated who they were dealing with; a customer experience professional who doesn’t like to be humiliated and is very opinionated and a petrol head with a wide network of social followers…..a bit like yourself and this post!
In the words of Julia Roberts “Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now!”