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A good dealer experience still influences car shoppers

by Frank Romeo

This post originally appeared on the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association website ( and the Toronto Star

The other day, a colleague and I were discussing what motivates car shoppers to choose one dealership over another.

We both concluded that great products, service and pricing were at the top of the list. But the number one reason customers choose one dealership over another is a ‘good dealer experience,’ at least according to the 2012 Foresight Dealership Experience Strategy Report.

The Report polled 7,851 new vehicle buyers and concluded that “a good dealer experience sells more cars, especially among older buyers” (or, as I would say, mature buyers). The Report listed a number of factors that influence purchasing decisions, such as vehicle selection, financing availability, lead response time, and a well-organized showroom.

Today, great products and competitive pricing are the standard prerequisites of the retail auto business, without which no dealership can compete. But what really defines a great dealership comes down to service. A dealership whose employees are highly motivated, eager to embrace new challenges and who enjoy their work are more inclined to meet – and exceed – customer expectations.

In my opinion, a great dealership experience encompasses all points of contact between dealership personnel and the customer, including the initial greeting (first impressions), the sales process, vehicle delivery experience, complaint handling, and after delivery follow-up. It includes a clean and well-maintained facility (inside and out); staff that is courteous and willing to genuinely help the customer; quality products and competitive pricing.

In the past 15 years, dealers have invested significant resources to enhance the customer experience in other ways.

For instance, customer satisfaction indexes have been devised to gauge customer insight and to ensure continuous improvement.

Many dealerships have undergone major renovations or built new state-of-the-art facilities to provide a higher level of comfort and convenience for their customers. A majority of dealerships now have dedicated Internet departments to handle online sales and service appointments, live chat, e-marketing functions, and to participate in social media.

At the end of the day, a great dealership experience hinges on two important criteria: Would a customer recommend the dealership to their family, friends and neighbours? And would they patronize the dealership again?

A dealership may build a new facility, commit resources to training its staff and create internal processes that make buying and servicing a vehicle more efficient for the customer. But without repeat and referral business, a dealership has effectively failed to deliver.

I remember in the mid-1990s, many industry observers famously predicted that the Internet would make automobile salespeople and dealerships obsolete within a few years.

Well, the opposite happened: as internet connectivity and digital technologies spread, salespeople and dealerships became more relevant than ever in the car buying process. Far from becoming obsolete, dealerships have re-invented their businesses and are more connected with their customers and better able to address their automotive needs than at any time in history.

The Foresight Study also noted something else that caught my eye. It said that older (mature) shoppers were more influenced by the dealership experience and less on different forms of marketing. With so much hype surrounding social media and mobile technologies these days, it’s easy to forget that a segment of the car buying public still prefers traditional marketing (TV, radio, newspapers), and they especially prefer face-to-face interaction with sales and service staff.

Not all customers have embraced new technologies. This is particularly true in rural areas, where customers still visit dealerships just to say hello.

From the Foresight Report, we can conclude that car shoppers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to buying or servicing vehicles. Although dealership facilities and conveniences have improved and vehicles have become safer and advanced with greater technology, it still boils down to providing an optimal experience for exceeding the customer’s expectations.


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