The Importance of Your Front-End Experience
*This blog was submitted by an anonymous NCM employee who recently visited local dealerships to purchase a vehicle.
Like all things, cars do not last forever. I recently had the pleasure of learning this first-hand, when my sedan outdid itself and was sent off to be wholesaled. I was in no rush to purchase a replacement car, but knew it was time to start shopping around. As you know, consumers are now checking numerous online listings before entering a showroom to purchase a vehicle, and I was no different. I started my process by shopping on third-party listing websites that had a modern, user-friendly interface. I filtered by price, years, and makes that fit my criteria, and only viewed listings that had photos (no, not stock photos) of the vehicles to narrow down my list.
What was shocking, however, was the experience I had at each dealership I visited. Despite having very similar inventory, I think my car buying journey is something that may interest you. Today, I will share the pros and cons of each dealer I visited and shed some light on their not-so-best practices from a customer perspective.
On a Friday evening, I set an appointment via Dealership A’s online messaging system to test drive a few of their vehicles. I realized right away that I was speaking with an actual BDC rep rather than an automated bot, which I took as a sign of great customer service. The rep was very memorable and was clearly trained to focus on professionalism, courtesy, attentiveness, and — most importantly in my book — spelling. Her responses were quick, and she answered with the right amount of understanding for my needs (too many messages can seem pushy).
After the appointment was set, I immediately received an automated confirmation email that appeared as if it was from a sales consultant. As I woke up on Saturday morning (around 9am), there was a voicemail on my phone from an enthusiastic, calm-spoken sales consultant. The same consultant that “signed” the email from the previous night, I noticed. He was simply calling to confirm the appointment time, and the same-day touchpoint assured me that my appointment wasn’t lost during non-business hours.
Once I arrived at Dealership A, I stepped into a beautiful, clean showroom. I was quickly greeted by the receptionist, who was able to connect me with my assigned salesperson easily. I sat at his desk to discuss the weather, local professional sports teams playing that weekend, my family’s needs, and finally the reason for a new purchase. He was organized, prepared to discuss the exact vehicles I’d requested with my appointment, and showed me a few other options that he had pre-pulled with specs and pictures. After hearing hundreds of car-shopping horror stories, this is EXACTLY the experience I was looking for as a consumer. The consultant was very knowledgeable about the cars he was showing us, leading each walkaround, pointing out flaws to be aware of (again, building trust), and emphasized the top features. He swiftly navigated his list of used cars based on my feedback and didn’t waste more than 20 seconds on the ones that were obviously not a good fit. He created an open, direct line of communication with us.
After finding a listing on a third-party website that interested me, I called the dealership phone number listed to set a test-drive appointment. The phone number led me to an automated recording, and I followed instructions to be transferred to sales. To my surprise, however, my call was transferred to the service department. I hung up, called back, and waited to speak with the operator. My call was placed on hold as it transferred to sales; I sat on the phone for what felt like an eternity of endless ringing. No one ever picked up the line, nor was I pushed to a voice mailbox. After a third attempt, I was feeling somewhat aggravated, but was finally able to reach a sales consultant. The man sounded flustered to speak on the phone but mentioned I could come in anytime and to ask for him when I arrived.
About 30 minutes after my call, I arrived at Dealership B. I was greeted by an overcrowded lot and had to find street parking about 100 yards away from the dealership. When I entered the showroom, I was bothered to see empty water bottles on the floor and loud rock music playing over the intercom. I met with the sales consultant from the phone call, who had no recollection of our call 30 minutes prior or what car I wanted to test drive.
Once I made it to the car, he realized that he’d grabbed the wrong set of keys. I waited about 15 minutes for him to return and did my own personal walkaround since I obviously had some time to kill. By my own inspection, I almost left the dealership based on the exterior condition of the vehicle. Unlike the photos I had seen online, the car's exterior was covered in major scratches, dents, and had clearly been in some minor collisions. I was not interested in purchasing a car that didn’t have a clean record, nor was I interested in purchasing from a dealership who does not take reconditioning seriously. If this is how they treat their inventory on the exterior, who knows what internal problems the vehicle might have waiting for me?
When he returned, he started his routine about how this was a great car for me and how the price was right. To me, this was laughable! The consultant didn’t ask any questions about what I wanted, so how did he know this was the perfect car for me? Additionally, the car might have been fair market value if there weren’t thousands in recon cost that would be needed. Instantly, I felt no trust in my consultant, the quality of their inventory, or the dealership as a whole!
After letting the sales consultant know right away that the car was not what I was looking for, he thought it’d be great for me to speak with his manager about the car. The manager really wanted to make me feel comfortable about test-driving and purchasing the car, even though I expressed multiple reasons why this vehicle did not meet my requirements. He discussed reconditioning the vehicle in his body shop free of charge, but that he was not willing to budge on the price of the vehicle. The breaking point, quite honestly, was that every employee in this dealership, from setting the appointment to post-walkaround, failed to ask what prompted me to purchase a vehicle. I reiterated that I did not want the car, and that I’d prefer not to waste any more time over a deal that wasn’t happening.
Dealership C was just around the corner from my house, and despite not doing a ton of research on their website (compared to the others), I walked in with an open mind. My family had bought cars from this dealership for decades, and it had phenomenal online reviews. My family always requested the same sales consultant, who has been working at Dealership C for 30 years.
When I walked in the showroom, there was a smiling sales consultant that greeted me with a water bottle, a solid handshake, and said, “Hello, and welcome to Dealership C! We’re so glad that you’ve stopped in to visit us.” The showroom was tidy, and everyone seemed to be in-position. I informed the sales consultant that I was there to meet with my longtime family-friend and sales consultant, if he was available. While waiting, the sales consultant asked me about my day, how I knew his fellow sales consultant, and what brought me in today. He made a comfortable place in his office for me while I waited for my family-friend sales consultant to walk in to greet me. They both made me feel like their only customer of the day and worked well as a team.
Who Won the Sale
Ultimately, Dealership C did not have the inventory I was looking for and listed their used vehicles at a much higher price than what I saw at Dealership A. Maybe on a different day, and if they had a vehicle that matched what I needed, this could have been a sale. Even though I didn’t walk away with a car from their dealership, this experience was very memorable. Because of my positive interactions at Dealership C, and the proximity to my home, I will choose to service my vehicle with Dealership C. Due to the overall experience and price, I ended up purchasing from Dealership A, but I felt there were many takeaways from all of the dealerships that I visited.
Takeaways from My Experience:
- From a consumer’s perspective, purchasing a car is an emotional process. Be sensitive to the fact that they have attachments to their previous car, and that purchasing a new vehicle might be the cause of a lot of financial stress. Treating it as the umpteenth trade-in of the month is not going to help you connect with your buyer and build trust for this or future purchases.
- Ask questions! Talk to them about their families and pets, understand their hobbies, ask them their top needs in a vehicle, and ask questions beyond the surface level to identify driving factors. This will present you with opportunities to reap more profit from the sale, and your buyer will enjoy making a deal with you vs. the other sales consultants they’ve met.
- You have to tailor your approach to understand the customer’s emotional experience and needs. If you fail to make this connection, you won’t understand your customer's needs and what they may want in their next purchase.
- Consumers are willing to drive further for a better consumer experience, better online listings, and better-trained sales consultants and BDC reps. If a customer has spent the time researching and has ended up in your showroom, you must be prepared to make it a memorable experience and be a standout dealership. If you need help with this, we have training courses led by expert instructors.
- Please be sure to test your dealership’s dispatching system to ensure it’s working properly.
- Positive first impressions matter. Even if you don’t end up with a sale, you can still earn a lifelong customer in other areas of the dealership.