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How used car dealers can build trust, a guest opinion

Neil Smith, Imperial Car Supermarkets

Automotive buyer studies over the past few years have shown to be in agreement that the two primary concerns of used car buyers are “Can I trust this dealer?” and “If the car breaks down, will this business look after me?”.

In other words: by default, customers don’t trust us used car dealers (or the motor trade in general, for that matter). Is this deserved? We’’ in the past we haven’t helped ourselves and our reputation isn’t exactly pristine. Stats released a couple of years ago highlighted that only 7% of consumers visiting a used car retailer expected to have a good experience, once they had visited the dealership only 8% had a bad experience.

We don’t get the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ treatment. Right from the start, we have to prove we’re honest and trustworthy, and it’s imperative we keep reaffirming this to customers every step of the way.

So what actions can we take, collectively, to slowly but surely turn the negative perception around?

It all starts with a great website experience.

A website is, statistically, likely to be the first point of contact customers have with your dealership, either directly, via Google or 3rd party classified sites. With plenty of choice and options out there, it’s pretty clear displaying price, spec and standard call to actions like click to call and enquiry button are not going to cut it anymore.

If nothing else is available, how could customers possibly trust that we’re going to look after them, either before or after they made such a big purchase with us? 

Probably one of the most common mistakes, these days, is still sticking to outdated sales tricks like hiding service history details, in the hope customers will agree to come to site willing to discuss further.

The problem with that is customers have dozens of other options literally at their fingertips. If they don’t find what they’re looking for on the website, they’re simply going to leave. What a waste of an opportunity! 

It seems logical, then, to go the opposite way, and publish all the available information around vehicle provenance, MOT and service history, in order to build the trust that would otherwise be shaky at best.

Providing plenty of images with ‘hotspot’ features and damage points (if any), and how certain parts of the car have been reconditioned is yet another way to allow customers to make their own decision based on the cosmetics as well as the mechanics, without pressure, and in the comfort of their own home.

Let’s not forget competitive aftersales offers.

Strong aftersales offers are, understandably, just as important as the car deal itself. Ideally they would become a package including both a service plan and an option to extend standard warranty. 

Warranty for up to 5 years has proven to be a great way to give customers peace of mind, as they know they’ll have additional cover moving forward should they experience issues outside normal wear and tear.

A competitive service plan, over and above value for money, further builds customers’ trust by minimising the fear of being caught out with any unplanned large bills, it’s also a great way of ensuring customer retention.

At the end of the day, it has to be a win-win: customers minimise the chance of unexpected bills and manage their finances better, while we get to retain them through the entire aftersales cycle and be top of mind when, eventually, they’ll start thinking about their next car.

Last but not least, it's customer care.

No customer likes the idea of complaining about a legitimate mistake or fault and getting a ‘smoke and mirrors’ response. Even if everything else up to this point went smoothly, a misstep here can break the trust it took so much hard work to earn.

A great way to put customers’ mind at ease is having in place a Primary Authority Agreement with Trading Standards, as well as using independent mediation services. Should there be a disagreement about how a complaint should be resolved, proactively involving a third party to handle this usually leads to the best resolution and provides an extra level of protection and comfort for the customer. 

Author: Neil Smith, operations director, Imperial Cars

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