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Test drives, part exchanges and 'follow up' - are all 'bad'

"The motor industry needs to go back to basics, judging by Mitac research into how customers are treated in showrooms and aftersales departments. We discovered major issues which some dealers are not paying attention to.

We asked a number of consumers to review their experiences in a variety of dealerships across the country from London to Newcastle upon Tyne and report back to us in selected criteria.

These criteria were kept deliberately simple and broad because a potential client recently criticised Mitac for being too traditional and said its approach was not “modern enough”. Mitac had a vested interest therefore in discovering the truth about the customer experience.

We were also interested to find out whether the motor industry had listened to the seemingly endless complaints by consumers which led to the pressure on prices and Consumers' Association 'Rip-off Britain' campaign.

Our research was qualitative rather than quantitative but sadly each person involved had a similar tale to tell. Complaints included phone calls to dealerships not returned or ignorance of the product. The view of our mystery shoppers was that the dealers were not interested in selling cars and that image appears to be everything.

Sadly, the best that could be said was that sales staff were never rude but in almost every case the car sold itself without any help from the salesperson.

Some quotes from our mystery shoppers:

  • “These guys pay lip service to customer care.”
  • “Calling a salesman a 'customer handler' does not improve service.”
  • “I wanted to buy a new car but the price they offered on my old one was an insult and made a part-exchange deal impossible.”
  • “I didn't find the sales staff credible. No-one wore a suit and twice my partner and I asked a fellow shopper if they were staff. A lack of uniform may sound trivial but if you don't know who to ask for help or even where to find it, it can be an embarrassing experience.”
  • “We were told to come back during the week for a test drive – I work Monday to Friday away from home.”
  • “We had to keep chasing the saleswoman to get a test drive. They never returned our calls.”
  • “I knew more about the spec and availability of the car I wanted to buy than the salesman and all I did was look it up on the internet.”

    Manufacturers and dealers have, in some cases and with some justification, been complaining about the lack of profitability across the networks. The fingers are always pointed at UK taxes, margins and consumer pressure on pricing. But no wonder consumers are critical if they go out to spend their money and the people taking it from them almost seem to begrudge their presence.

    One customer buying a small second family car said the salesman seemed uninterested in his custom and ill- informed about the product.

    All these buyers wanted the thrill of buying a new car from a dealer showroom. They had done their homework on the internet and wanted to put their knowledge and money together – and come away with the car of their dreams. Sadly, however, the reality is that if they could find another way of getting around or spending between £13,000 and £20,000 they would.

    If dealers want to hand their business over to the internet and independent importers, our research suggests that they are going the right way about it.

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