Car Shopping

Shopping for cars has long been a less than desirable experience, and certainly not one I look forward to every three or four years. And, although I have streamlined and for the most part wrestled control of my buying process away from the car dealer (I use the fax and internet), occasionally I am forced to enter their domain.

We are looking to replace our current Jeep Grand Cherokee with a smaller SUV. We're not buying another Jeep for two reasons: one, it's too big for my wife, and two, I replaced the brakes on it four times in four years with an added customer service struggle each time I had it in the shop at the Jeep dealer.

So, we're looking at Kia Sorrento. We stroll on in to Dulles Motorcars, the closest Kia dealer to us, and after a few minutes on our own in the lot, along comes Chris. He's very polite, nice and not at all overbearing. He didn't ask many questions, other than if we were interested in a car (duh?). While his sales skills were certainly lacking, it was nice not to feel like you were in a pressure cooker to "buy today". He answered our few design and performance questions with relative confidence, and he made some small talk with our baby daughter. We told him this was our first opportunity to look at the Kia, and that we would be buying a car next month. He went to get a brochure....but, they were out. He gave me his card, and wished us a nice day. We left, actually relieved that we weren't armwrestled to buy a car before we left the lot. It was nice. We will probably go back there....probably. But, not definitely.

But....Chris blew it, didn't he. I mean, we are definitely buyers. We gave him clear and certain information about what we wanted and when we wanted it. He received our "permission" to sell to us, and he failed to seize the opportunity. Why...because he can't reach us! He is relying on chance that we enjoyed our initial experience there, that we will find our way back there before going to another dealer (or carmaker altogether) and that once we return to his lot, that he will be there, and that we will still have his card and ask for him. That's way too many if's.....and not a very memorable experience.

Below are some Star Concepts of Memorable Service (with more to come on these as well as others in future posts) which Chris could have used to be more effective:

First.....get permission. He did that.
Second, get to know me. (Ask bunches of questions) He didn't really do that.
Third, stay in touch with me. He can't do that for obvious reasons. And, even if he could, other than sending me a brochure, he doesn't have an introduction to his sales message because he doesn't know me.
Fourth, stay ahead of me. He can't.
Fifth, always exceed my expectations. He may never get the chance.
No Memorable Service reason to gab about it to all of my friends and colleagues.

Chris could have asked me a simple question: Mr. Chaffin, before you go today, would you have any interest in knowing when the 2005 model arrives, probably within the next month or so? (Also, if he was observant, he recognized we were somewhat price conscious by looking at the standard models vs. the upgrades). So, he could have asked: Would you be interested in knowing when the 2004 models go on sale in order to make room for the 2005's? In either case, I'm not going to say "no". So, now he gets my e-mail address and snail mail address, and bingo, number 3 and 4 are taken care of, and he has a real chance at number 5. Now that he knows it's okay, he will e-mail me, send me a brochure, and maybe even a bag of York peppermint patties (because he saw me chomping on one of those). Now, those actions would be light years beyond any of the other dealers. And, throw in the peppermint patties, or a personalized Baby Einstein DVD for my daughter and he would be in another universe in the realm of car sales. He would have created something Remarkable and Memorable!

Listen to your customer intently, and get engaged with him. It's the only way to make service really your advantage.