We’re digging ourselves a hole that will be hard to get out of. Consumers have noticed how our automotive customer service efforts have taken a nose-dive in 2022. Early on in the pandemic-riddled year of 2020 (as if we’re not still pandemic-riddled, Joe?), dealers did everything in their power to entice car shoppers to visit their showroom or do business with us. We pulled out all the stops…
“We’ll wear masks.”
“We’ll wear gloves.”
“We’ll pick up your vehicle for service and drop it off when we’re done.”
“We’ll sanitize the showroom, the door handles, the air, the vents, our mouths…”
“We’ll bring the vehicle to you.”
“We’ll do it all online.”
“We’ll ship it to you. You never have to even see us!”
What has automotive customer service become?
We bent over backward and honestly started delivering the types of services shoppers have long sought from automotive dealerships. And then the chip shortage occurred, and production slowed. Inventory became scarce. With that, our need to deliver quality customer service faded. We got the upper hand in the supply and demand game and what did we do? Did we continue these great offerings? No. We reverted right back to how we always operated… nay… we got even worse.
“We got the car. You want it? You better come in and pick it up quick or we’ll sell it out from under you.”
“You want one? Great. I’ll need a $2,000 deposit and you should have it around 6-9 months.”
“Yes, we do have it. That’ll be $25,000 over MSRP.”
“Yes, we do have it. That’ll be $12,000 over MSRP… on an Altima.” (This last one isn’t a joke… and it should be.)
Right now, at new car lots all over the country, our salespeople have morphed into a curt, cantankerous bunch with a brusque “Take it or leave it” attitude. While training a dealer group last week, a salesperson said to me, “It’s never been tougher to sell a car”. That’s incorrect. I think it’s never been easier. Are vehicles often unaffordable for many? Yes. But does a salesperson have to do anything special to sell one? Hell no!
Customer: Do you have this vehicle?
Customer: Great, I’ll be in right away to buy it.
Where in our current retail landscape are sales skills necessary? At this point, a receptionist could sell a vehicle so long as it was in stock. Most purchases today are based more on inventory’s immediate availability than on any presentation of product or feature/benefit discussion. Salespeople no longer try to open up a customer’s consideration set. They don’t seek to find alternative vehicles to consider. Today’s automotive retail environment is sadly teaching salespeople to be order-takers. “Automotive customer service be damned, give me an in-stock vehicle and I’ll sell it.” They don’t realize this has more to do with eager customers and limited supply than it does any expertise in their craft.
All of the progressive offerings dealers introduced under 2 years ago, with all of the customer service initiatives, have gone by the wayside. Why? Because we don’t believe we need to offer them to be profitable. (And sadly, it’s clear we don’t). In a time when OEMs are requiring a higher average CSI score, dealers are letting their sales teams run amok.
Do you see your automotive customer service problems?
This is the automotive customer service crisis I am concerned about. Shoppers saw how much we were able to pivot on a dime in the face of a pandemic and deliver great experiences and valuable services. And the moment we get the upper hand back in the relationship, we throw away all the new services we implemented, and with that, the goodwill we just earned. Customers will remember. Shoppers are frustrated. Ask anyone who answers inbound sales calls, the callers are unhappy. Not just that they can’t find the product they want or the higher amount they must spend, but the lack of customer service and compassion being shown to them.
When inventory levels start to right themselves, salespeople are going to be in for one helluva wake-up call. They might have to try to sell a vehicle. The amount of training that salespeople will need to break these newfound bad habits will be substantial. Don’t let your automotive customer service suffer because supply and demand give you the upper hand. Your customers are watching.
They’ll remember, not just how much they paid (though they’ll be upside down in the next buying cycle), but how little your staff tried to make their experience a good one. Wrongly, salespeople don’t feel they really have to. Empathy and compassion have left them because they believe they have all the power in the relationship. The money flowing in is great right now, sure, but how salespeople are conducting themselves during this crisis will come back to haunt us all.
Here are some more tips on how salespeople can manage this inventory crisis with great customer service. Besides, If we’re not self-aware enough to see these issues and learn from them, how will we handle customer service issues of the future such as changes to the dealership ownership model and other innovations in mobility