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Opinion: Jim Saker questions car dealer's 'bear in a box' approach

Professor Jim Saker

I love our industry. It is dynamic, interesting and, at times, just plain odd.

This week the postman rang and presented me with a box. I wasn’t expecting a delivery but thought that I must have got confused and forgotten about an order that had been missed from the plethora of pandemic-induced online transactions.

However, it wasn’t something that I had ordered and turned out to be a teddy bear in a box.

Looking more closely I discovered that it carried the branding of one of the cars I drive.

The challenge was that it took me a few minutes to find an explanatory card wedged at the bottom of the box.

On the card it thanked me for having my car serviced at one of their dealerships.

It went on to say that I was now registered on their Digital Service Record System which gave my details to every dealership in the franchise.

The irony is that they don’t have a franchised dealer in the city where I live.

The message said that the bear was a way of saying thank you for having my service done by one of its dealers.

This was the first annual service on the car and was also having continued warranty work done on the faulty air-conditioning system.

Unsurprisingly, I was always going to have the work done within the franchise and would choose the best dealer in their network to get it done.

Why bother sending me a bear? There is nothing wrong with the bear which is more than can be said for the car.

With the company now holding all my personal and service data why would a small bear be an appropriate ‘thank you’ gift for a grumpy old academic whose kids have left home years ago?

Please don’t misunderstand me this is a very nice gesture, and I don’t want to appear in any way ungrateful, but in an age when the use of customer data is going to be increasingly important surely that information could have been used more appropriately.

With the change in the value chain brought about by electric cars, most people in the industry are looking at ways at building relationships by exploring both customer and vehicle lifetime value.

My problem is that I am not sure where the ‘Send a Teddy Bear’ strategy fits in. If we are going to bombard drivers with stuffed animals every time their car is serviced, I suspect there could be some resistance from charity shops overwhelmed with the items.

To make it worse, the company states ‘we hope that you will give him a good home.’

I now have a feeling of impending guilt and also a fear about what will turn up after the next service. Might need to find an independent.

Author: Prof Jim Saker is director of the Centre for Automotive Management at Loughborough University’s Business School, Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) president and an AM Awards judge.

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