If you have read my blog posts about customer service in the past, you will have undoubtedly heard me speak about how I am a consumer 99% of the time. I don’t know if this is something that resonates as much with other people in the sales industry, but for me, the consumer experience that I have directly translates to how I provide customer service to my clients. I really take note of how I feel when I walk into a business, how I am greeted by the sales staff or employees, how accessible the products are and how the interaction with me and the sales staff helps determine whether or not I end up purchasing a product.
This past week my wife and I were out shopping for a new car. The automobile industry is actually quite similar to real estate as it relates to sales. There is a lot of information at your fingertips online, there are a lot of options or service providers available, and probably most importantly the conversion rate of leads or walk-ins is relatively low. I would equate somebody walking into a car dealership to that of a prospective buyer walking into one of my open houses.
Needless to say, my wife and I were very excited about shopping for a new car. She’s been driving her Honda Element for well over 10 years, and the old lady was due for retirement. We’d been searching online for a few months here and there and started gathering information on the different things that we wanted in her next vehicle. We had a general idea of what we were looking for but truthfully hadn’t committed to any specific car brand.
While I was also excited about purchasing a new car, I was equally enthusiastic about the interactions that I would have with the car salesman and how I would feel in each one of those scenarios and whether or not it would contribute to my purchasing with that brand or not.
Here is how the experiences went
Now I should preface this by saying my wife is not a fan of luxury brand vehicles. After meandering about an auto mall that is close to our house, I suggested that we went to the Mercedes-Benz dealership to have a look at their seven-seater SUV. Reluctantly my wife accepted the invitation to go as I baited her with the promise of lunch afterward.
The showroom at Mercedes-Benz was first class. What was not so first class was the level of customer service. It took us what I would estimate at least 5 minutes before one of the members of the sales staff gave us attention. When we did finally meet a salesman, I’d asked if he could show us the seven-seater SUV that they had outside. While looking at the exterior of the car the salesman asked: “Where do you guys live?”. “Mississauga” I replied. He then proceeded to tell me that we wouldn’t be able to buy the car because we don’t live in Oakville.
That was fine by me. There’s a Mercedes dealership in Mississauga, so I didn’t think much of it. He then proceeded to tell me about the rigorous requirements of being able to purchase this vehicle. While he was trying to explain that a lot of people will buy this vehicle and then ship it overseas for a profit, I couldn’t help but wonder why this guy was going into a diatribe without even for a second describing the features and benefits of the vehicle that I’m interested in. Is this at all relevant at this point in the process? After 5 minutes, I had learned more about how to ship a car overseas then I did about what the car itself actually provided.
There was an aura about this individual which suggested that we weren’t good enough for Mercedes Benz or we weren’t Mercedes-Benz material.
It was extremely off-putting for several reasons. Firstly, it would validate my wife’s claim about Mercedes-Benz, and I probably wouldn’t be able to live it down for quite some time. Secondly, while I do have the luxury of being able to afford a Mercedes-Benz if I wanted to, I didn’t like the association of ego or classism that the sales rep was putting off.
I could honestly say that through that horrible customer service experience, I will never look at Mercedes-Benz again when considering a purchase.
Our experience at Toyota fared much better off. Granted they had an edge on Mercedes because I wasn’t initially greeted by a salesman who looked like he was trying to bring back the Jheri curl. What I did find a little odd as we were going through the showroom, is that the first person that converse with us was the receptionist. Not that I have any issues speaking with the receptionist, but I would think that they are not as well versed about the cars in the showroom as the sales staff.
She was extremely polite and asked if we had any questions and I did proceed to ask several questions to which she didn’t know the answers.
Truthfully I didn’t expect her to know the answers. She was likely filling in for a member of the sales staff or several members of the sales staff who didn’t feel it was important enough to be on the floor when customers were entering the building.
The 4Runner was definitely up there in one of the cars that we were looking at purchasing, but that euphoric feeling you get when you’re excited about a product drops relatively fast when you aren’t engaging and learning about the product and the features that it provides. It took about 10 minutes for a member of the sales staff to come out and speak with us, but by that point for one reason or the other, we really lost interest in the vehicle so much so that we didn’t even bother to take it for a test drive.
Now I’ve got to say Ford pretty well had it in the bag. We had a rented a Ford Explorer for our trip to Chicago last year and really love the car. I also owned a Lincoln for the better part of five years, but it’s been over 10 years since I’ve owned a North American vehicle. I am one of the people who have an affinity for purchasing North American products if I can. It also helps that we live a few kilometers away from the Ford plant in Oakville.
Once again we were greeted by a receptionist while we were looking at the car. The receptionist was also delightful; however, she too knew very little about the vehicle. Luckily a member of the sales staff greeted us a minute later. We proceeded to ask several questions about the car, and because the one in the showroom wasn’t the specific model that we were looking for the salesman took us out to the lot to show us one that was. I actually really like the salesman.
Being in sales myself; I always treat salesman with respect and give them an opportunity to sell me on their product. It was here where this gentleman really did drop the ball. One of the things that stood out to me while looking at the vehicle was when I asked him what the towing capacity was on the car. I know that most people wouldn’t know the answer off hand, nor did I expect him to. His response, however, was a little odd to me. He replied: “It can tow a lot of weight.” I’m the type that is perfectly content with you letting me know you don’t have an answer to my question. What bugs me to no end is when you don’t actually give me a response to the question in your reply.
I responded that I would like the ability to be able to tow a 12-foot trailer as I do stage many of my listings and it would be convenient not to have to rent a truck or hire movers every time. He then said to me “I don’t think it’s going to be able to carry a 12-foot trailer. How much does it weigh?”. I kind of laughed inside my head there. While I know that he’s trying to make conversation with me, asking me how much a trailer would weigh for a vehicle that he doesn’t know the towing capacity for kind of makes the question irrelevant.
During the conversation, I happened to come up with the answer on my own because I searched it online.
Again I did not expect the salesman to know the answer of what the towing capacity was on a Ford Explorer. What I do appreciate, is that consumers are armed and equipped with so much more information than they were a few short years ago. This ease of access to information makes it that much more crucial for a salesperson to know and understand their product.
As a car salesman, you have the benefit of having a select amount of inventory or products that your company provides. A lot of the features are relatively similar, and I don’t believe that would it would require too much work to have a general understanding of the product that you’re trying to sell.
There is one thing that will draw me to purchase aside from the salesman knowing the ins-and-outs of the product, and that is having a passion for the product that they are selling. If you are not excited and proud to stand behind the product that you are selling to me, that energy transfers over and makes the experience much less than what it should be. While I liked this salesman, it did feel more like we were interrupting an intense five hour series of playing solitaire on his computer, and he would have loved nothing more to get back to his desk.
We left the dealership without test driving the car because we already had rented it previously and knew that it ran exceptionally well. Even after having a less-than-stellar encounter with the salesperson, the Ford Explorer was likely the vehicle we would be purchasing.
Our next stop was at the Honda dealership. As I mentioned, my wife currently owns a Honda element and has a strong connection with the Honda brand. Her father also owns an Accord, and her brother previously owned an Accord as well. Needless to say, Honda will always be in the running when my wife is looking for a vehicle. The only car we were interested in seeing here was the Honda Pilot.
Now I have to say Honda is really great. The staff in Honda know how to treat clients and customers exceptionally well. I know this because I’ve happened to bring my wife’s car in for service several times. We were greeted by a member of the sales staff almost right away (plus one for Honda). We mentioned that we would like to take out the Pilot out for a test drive. The salesman responded, “It’s currently out for a test drive, and they won’t be back for another 20 minutes”.
Now, it could have been that we were getting a little tired from looking at cars. It could also have been that we were getting a little hangry or it could have been that I saw three Honda Pilot demo cars sitting in the lot directly from where I was standing. I couldn’t help but ask myself “couldn’t we just take one of those out?”. I understand they need to have some sale stuff on the floor so didn’t think much of it, but when the salesman proceeded to let me know that we couldn’t actually view the other vehicles, I found it a little odd.
Why couldn’t we look in the interior of one of your demo cars while waiting for the one that was on the road?
Looking back on it now it was probably more to do with the fact that we were hangry. But we didn’t end up waiting that 20 minutes and left the Honda dealership.
I can’t help but think as I’m writing this that I probably sound like a stuck-up consumer. The truth is I really appreciate and value excellent customer service. I’m incredibly courteous to people that I speak to, I always give people the benefit of the doubt and probably the best thing about me in a consumer experience I never haggle on price.
That’s right in my profession I will negotiate to no end, but when it comes to my personal purchases, I feel like when you are negotiating too hard on the price, you’re going to lose out on a crucial element of the relationship. This is less so when purchasing a car, but when I’m doing something like getting a renovation done on my house, I know that a dollar coming out of the pocket of the contractor is a dollar coming out of the level of service in his work. I guess I apply the same sentiment to every one of my purchases and so I feel like I’m the ideal consumer for a salesman.
Just in case you’re still thinking I’m a little bit of a stuck-up consumer, we happened to be searching for cars on our 10-year anniversary. While I was thoroughly enjoying getting this check off our to-do list, I did want to make sure that I was able to spend some quality time with my wife. Luckily we only had one last stop.
Volvo was definitely a long shot. For starters, I know that my wife is not overly a fan of luxury brands and this was a car that I selected. She hadn’t really reviewed it much at all before me showing it to her, and after the experience at Mercedes, I was potentially setting myself up for a disaster.
It didn’t help that the Volvo dealership was not in the auto mall and we had to drive about 15 kilometers to get there. No problem though, it just so happened that Krispy Kreme was on the way, so we refueled with only a few deep-fried delights, and our hangriness subsided for the time being.
We walked into the dealership and went over to the car that I showed my wife online which was the Volvo XC90. Almost immediately we were greeted by Steve, a member of their sales staff.
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered somebody as excited about a product they are selling. What I could immediately distinguish (and to his benefit) is that Steve wasn’t just there to make a sale. He lived and breathed the product he was selling. Steve went on to discuss many of the features and benefits that this vehicle provided. He also happened to be the first person to ask us if we had kids. I may have failed to mention this earlier in my post, but we are specifically looking for a 7-seater SUV. I don’t know many people that would be making that purchase who don’t have kids. In that question, he was able to capture my emotional interest. He cared about what the car would provide for our family and our lifestyle. It also helped him know how to dictate the flow of the features that he was describing to us in the car.
I’ll admit I started to feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Within 5 minutes of speaking with Steve, he had shown that he cared about us and about the product that he was selling. He literally knew about every feature in this car and not only did he describe those features he was able to show us those features.
After about a half hour of discussing the vehicle in the showroom, we went for a test drive. Hooray! The first actual car we went for a test drive in.
During the test drive, Steve continued to show us the features of the vehicle in action. For those of you who don’t know, Volvo is a company that has consistently prided itself on its safety, and I was blown away by some of the features that this car had. I also noticed during this process that my wife lost the association (or what I sometimes call a negative stigma) towards a luxury brand and really connected to the car itself. More importantly, I think she felt very safe and looked after by the way Steve was handling and leading us through the process.
After the test drive, we went to Steve’s office for what I was presuming would be the hard sell. Totally not the case! He gave us the benefits and the drawbacks of the car as well as the different options we had concerning purchasing outright, financing or leasing. As he got to understand us better, he led us down the path that he thought was best suited for us. This is definitely a skill that not all people in sales have.
When you are able to stay connected to the person instead of the transaction you are more times than not likely to achieve your end result. What I like to refer to as attaching to the process and detaching from the outcome.
Steve didn’t have to spend the better part of two hours with us, but he did, and he never made us once feel like we were wasting his time. That is a lot of time to invest in one customer without knowing whether or not they will result in a sale. I do know a few people in the car industry, and they say that a good salesman will typically sell 10 to 15 cars in a month.
The focused attention that Steve gave us resulted in a sale for him. If my experience is similar to that of the other people that he encounters I could only assume that he has no trouble reaching 15 sales in a month.
So if you’re still reading along, I salute you. You just read about a day in the life of Andrew Tamburello. Now I am going to circle back to the purpose of this post, which is how I use my experiences as a consumer to enhance the consumer experience with individuals that I encounter in my business.
This experience reinforced my belief in the one on one aspect of my business and the attention to detail that each and every person I interact with should get.
Buying or selling a home is undoubtedly the most significant financial decision you will be making in your life, and more importantly, it is the one that is driven by emotion more than anything else. How could you not be emotionally invested in a purchase that you will be living in and creating a lifetime of memories in?
I always want to be making sure that when it comes time for my clients to make that critical decision, I will be able to guide them in a way that shows I care more about them and what that decision means for their family than I do about the sale.
When you are in the process of a deciding to have somebody represent you buy or sell your home, I suggest that you strongly consider hiring somebody that you know cares and understands you. If you do that, you will definitely have a great experience. One in which you feel safe, heard and understood in. That to me is at the core of the consumer experience.
Hats off to you Steve! You showed me that there are still some good ones out there and that at the core of a good salesman, is someone who can connect with their customers.