By Debbie Kirlew
Gifts for customers on collection of their new vehicle were once de rigueur, particularly in the premium sector. Now in an age where much of the purchase journey is online, the process itself is carried out by email and excellent customer reviews are increasingly important, handover gifts are making a comeback.
In fact, there’s a psychological basis to make much of the parting moment, known as the ‘peak-end rule’.
The peak-end rule suggests people judge an experience based on its highest point and what occurs at the end rather than viewing it as a whole. While psychologists argue our view of an experience or event could be distorted, retailers could benefit from making the vehicle handover as special and memorable as possible to maximise the chances of leaving the customer with a highly favourable impression.
Richard Beevers, managing director of Customer Plus, the company behind the TrustFord ‘Moments of Truth’ campaign, said: “How the experience ends matters and it matters disproportionately. The most important thing to remember is the ‘peak-end rule’ – the strongest impact is often at the end of the experience.”
Colin Devine, marketing director at Mussay Personalised Handover Gifts, said he has seen an increase in the uptake of handover gifts, such as personalised coasters with an image of the customer and their new car or a framed photo taken on the day of collection and printed in the dealership before the vehicle is driven away.
He said: “It’s about making the handover special.
Sometimes it is as simple as the spare key or a key ring presented in a box, perhaps with a mug or photo. It makes something which dealers do already, such as handing over the spare key or the key itself with the dealership’s key ring, more memorable and very personal.
“It’s not the gift itself, but the experience that people remember. Dealers who tailor the handover to the individual ensure customers leave on a high note. For example, if a customer has talked about their pet Labrador and you include a coaster with a picture of a cute lab along with the spare key and key ring, it has an even greater impact because it is so personal.”
Inchcape’s group stock manager, Hamish White, who covers nine Volkswagen dealerships in the south of England, agreed: “We have a diverse customer base spread across a wide geographical area, with people purchasing different types of cars. If there’s one thing I have learnt over the years, one gift does not fit all.”
The variety of gifts given by the dealerships he covers include car accessories, teddy bears, flowers and T-shirts, even personal car prints where a sketch of the customer’s car is framed. Two approaches stand out – a cabinet displaying a choice of gifts, from which customers make their own selection, and sales executives who choose a gift according to the individual customer.
“In a couple of our dealerships there’s a display cabinet with items up to around £20 together with a price list,” he explained. “Customers are asked to choose an item and while some select the most expensive, most choose something that best suits them, which shows it’s not about the price.
“Other dealers leave it to the sales executive who best knows the customer. The gift ought to be personal, although most people like a bottle of champagne. Certainly, for a volume brand a handover gift is possibly something unexpected.”
“How the experience ends matters and it matters disproportionately. The strongest impact is often at the end of the experience”
Richard Beevers, Customer Plus
Among a poll of more than 50 dealers questioned by Mussay, the majority favoured handover gifts. More than 70% of respondents considered the handover gift as either ‘very’ or ‘quite’ important in the delivery of a ‘first-class’ handover experience. Almost three quarters (73%) believe that when their customers received gifts it enhanced their view of the dealership considerably, while 72% thought the handover gift had a role to play in boosting customer retention.
Neil Addley, managing director of Trusted Dealers, thinks something as simple as a bunch of flowers has a positive effect.
He said: “When people buy from a franchised dealer there is an expectation that they will be wowed by the experience, so handing over a bunch of flowers to the customer or their partner can be a nice finishing touch. A bit of word-of-mouth PR is likely to follow as friends and family inevitably comment on the lovely flowers in the living room. It will also probably prove to be a strong way of securing a positive review for the business.”
However, Beevers warns that a handover gift can just as easily leave a sour taste in the customer’s mouth and even the seemingly innocuous bunch of flowers could backfire.
He said: “Gifts should be tailored to the individual. If the standard gift is a bouquet of flowers and the person doesn’t want them, it’s just a waste of money.
“If you get the handover gift wrong, the customer could be left wondering why you gave the gift or asking ‘who is paying for this?’ So you need to think through any gifts, for example would the customer prefer something useful like petrol?”
However, both White and Beevers believe the handover process is more about the entire experience, with the parting gift just the icing on the cake.
White said: “We have become accustomed to online tailored shopping experiences and this is certainly something we should be adopting in automotive, particularly at handover. The handover can be very lengthy, but some people just want 15 minutes and others may want an hour-and-a-half. We should be asking them for their preference. However, what we do as they leave can make a lasting impression. Handing over a gift or walking them over to a gift cabinet just as they leave means they walk out of the door with a good feeling, especially if the gift was unexpected.”
Beevers added: “Do your research, ask people questions and get to know them throughout the sales process and then you can understand what kind of gift would be relevant. Combine that with how they want the handover managed. If they are a techy person, they may want to know the features inside out, but others may want to drive the car themselves first. Give people a choice.”
Their views are backed up by the independent review service website JudgeService. Sales director Dale Woodley said: “The comments we see appearing regularly regarding the handover includes not leaving enough petrol in the car or not being told there was no spare tyre – it’s apparent not all customers realise this so they need to be made aware. Doing the nice things like handing over a gift is always good, but only if the basics have been done right. It’s also important to undertake the follow-up to ensure expectations have been met.
“The handover gift is a really nice touch if everything else is right. Anecdotally, the handover gift seems to be making a comeback, as dealers are doing everything they can to stand out. Some dealers are really making the handover process special with a ‘reveal’ of the car by pulling off the wraps.
“Our statistics show that 15% of car buyers are loyal customers, having purchased their previous car from the business and 15% have purchased from the dealership in the past although they had bought their last car elsewhere, but this rises to 27-28% for the best performing dealers. If you do get everything right you can more or less double your number of loyal customers.
“As manufacturers raise standards and dealers seek to gain whatever edge they can and to create ‘fans’, not just customers, more and more are making the handover special.”