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The big picture: High standards take their toll

Manufacturers’ audits are costing dealers tens of thousands of pounds a year in lost bonuses and, in some cases, lost staff.

One dealer told me that one of his dealerships – a top performer in the franchise network – lost £20,000 in one quarter because a sales executive had failed to capture the name of one customer.

That’s the difference between (small) profit and loss. Worse still, the stress of costing the business that much money was too much, and the executive left the industry. Other dealers are experiencing similar staff turnover problems.

A cynic might suggest that carmakers are wielding the big stick as a way to recoup financial losses as pressure rises from head offices. In some cases manufacturers are privately admitting they have got their franchise standards wrong, setting quality thresholds impossibly high. They are realizing that dealers are struggling to make money and that’s putting huge pressure on customer service and sales.

But still they can’t help themselves digging deeper into dealers’ businesses, looking at every aspect of their sales and aftersales processes.

Are dealers consequently focused more on audit procedures and jumping through hoops than selling cars? Probably yes, and surely that leads to fewer sales and poorer customer service – just the kind of things manufacturers want to avoid.

And for all the focus on CSI programmes and mystery shopping, customer service levels have changed little over the years. Industry experts tell me ratings are similar to what they were 10 years ago – although that’s also down to rising standards meeting rising expectations.

So what’s to be done? Carmakers need to back off – realize that dealers are there to sell cars and deliver customer service, not fill in audit forms and meet their perceptions of good CSI. The whole process should be much simpler. Try that and they might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

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