Customers are more confident of their economic situation, of the economy and crucially what they need and expect from their target car and a dealer. They understand depreciation, the painful loss of value of an expensive cash purchase, the impact of servicing costs and importance of fuel economy – how the road tax on a Range Rover can be £1,000 for an old model and £400 for a new one thanks to its aluminium body and efficient engine – and the benefits of finance packages and service plans.
The impact of the internet
Gupta is all too aware that consumers are not learning these lessons in dealerships, but on the internet. He states that 97% of his customers have spent an average of 11 hours on the internet before they visit a showroom.
Showroom enquiry levels are down. But Gupta rejects any suggestion that sales staff have, or will become, order-takers for consumers looking to ‘buy and go’.
“The customer still has a choice of which dealer they want to buy from. They might have made their car choice and they might have spent 11 hours on research, but we still need to be able to educate them in terms of what the right model is, what availability is: wait four, five, six months or be sold one that we have in stock.
“Likewise, we as a retailer have to make the decision to sell to our customer. What’s stopping a customer buying from one of my competitors? If we don’t sell the Marshall benefits, my competitors win. The experience has got to be right, not just the transaction.”
One of the factors he is battling is overcomplicated customer satisfaction measures imposed by manufacturers.
“One links a bonus to whether a customer was introduced to the service department. If I can’t tick this box, it doesn’t mean the customer had a bad experience. It may have been an irrelevance compared to the car being delivered on time and in the expected condition,” Gupta said. Manufacturers can focus too much on adherence to process rather than genuine customer experience.