How is the in-store retail customer experience evolving?
American retailers appear to be facing a crisis. Brands like JC Penney, American Apparel, and Sears are all closing stores and customers there...
I recently read a great example of some awful customer service failures at American car dealers in Forbes magazine. Forbes writer Blake Morgan described one disaster after another – they are all so terrible it’s almost amusing. Incidents included:
• A salesperson treating a female customer with less respect than her male companion, because obviously the male partner will decide which car to buy (!)
• Sales staff knowing little to nothing about their own company and products
• A crowd of ten sales guys who swooped on any browsing customer
• A salesperson offering an opinion, rather than information
It surprises me that in 2016 car dealers still operate like this, but I know it’s true because I’ve had all of these experiences myself. Blake mentioned that it would be useful if the sales teams could have iPads and the training required to help customers with online searches and information, but I think there is an additional element to this story.
The process of buying or leasing a new car has changed dramatically. It used to be essential to tour the showrooms, sit in the vehicles, and talk to the salesperson as they make their pitch; now many customers are engaging with high-price items like cars in a different way.
There is much more information out there. The manufacturers all publish extensive data, photographs, and video. Auto magazines publish information. Review sites feature extensive reports from owners. And of course, the social networks let you talk to friends and family when thinking about something like a new car. I don’t need to leave home to narrow my selection down to perhaps two vehicles.
I know that in the past I have even narrowed down my options to the exact vehicle I wanted. When I walked into the dealer I just said: “I’d like to buy one of these, can we talk about the colour and sunroof options please?” It must have been the easiest sale ever for that dealer, because I had done my research before I arrived.
I’m sure that many other customers are finding this too, and it changes how the dealers and auto manufacturers need to relate to potential customers. It’s no good to decide that publishing videos of cars soaring around mountains or driving fast on a track is enough. Customers want real information, reviews, and the opinion of other owners of the same vehicle.
Potential buyers can find all of this online anyway, but smart auto companies will realise that the sales process has changed. Products like cars have a very different customer journey today than they did in the past, and brands that can help to shape the initial conversation in a positive way will be the ones that succeed.
What do you think about the changes to the customer journey in the last few years? Is the hard sell dead? Leave a comment or contact me on LinkedIn and let me know.