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!