Tuesday, January 10

Communication and Car Buying


From a brand experience perspective, there is none worse than cars.  Not so much the brand itself, although I wouldn't put many of them at tops of the marketing field either, but more from the buying experience.  It's awful, and in fact I've written about it before.  The experience is not consumer friendly, and it's not geared towards adding value for the shopper.  It's just not.

Evidently I am not alone.  As part of The University of Kansas #Blogapalooza, today I have a guest post from a student (her second time here) about her own experience negotiating for a car.  There is such an opportunity for a brand to improve this -- it's amazing to me that no one has seized it yet.  It's all about a consistent brand experience, fueled in this case by just ole' customer service and communication.  Boggles the mind!

If you've read my book, you know it's a common theme.  And in fact right up in the forward!  Today Katie shows us how some simple inter-departmental communication could go a long way towards making some improvement.

Katie, what's your experience?  Jim.

I dislike few things as much as negotiating during a car purchase.  One thing I dislike more is miscommunication between departments of a company.  I had the pleasure of encountering both during a recent car shopping experience.

After completing hours of research on Edmunds, Hyundai, and Car and Driver, I felt that I was ready to purchase an SUV.  I had the exact vehicle selected, had already negotiated the price down several thousand dollars, and free oil changes were thrown in for 60,000 miles.  I really felt that I was getting a good price.  I was merely seconds away from signing on the line when I happened to mention that I thought the free oil change promotion was interesting.  The salesman then commented that he'd be glad to see me every 7500 miles for the oil changes.

That comment quickly brought his sale to a halt.

I had purchased the car from the same dealership two years earlier.  The salesman during that encounter had also promoted the benefit of only needing an oil change every 7500 miles.  However, upon the first visit to the service department, the service manager was quick to point out that anyone driving under "extreme" conditions, which he stated was about 90% of drivers in this area, was required to change their oil every 3750 miles to maintain their warranty.  I informed him that his salesman was selling cars on the premise that oil changes were only needed every 7500 miles, saving a substantial amount of money each year.  The service manager brushed my comment off and I highly doubt he followed up with the sales department like I asked.  I gave the dealership the benefit of the doubt and chalked it up to the ignorance of one salesman.

Fast forward two years, and I found myself in the same position.  I explained to the SUV salesman what my experience had been in the service department with required oil changes.  Instead of offering to speak with the service department and clear up any confusion, he insisted that the service department was incorrect and my warranty would certainly be valid with less frequent oil changes.  I told him that I would rather either need that in writing from the dealership or free oil changes every 3750 miles, or I would not be purchasing the vehicle.

The salesman would not deliver on either, and I simply stood up and walked away.

Now I'm the type of person that will assume the best in anyone and am going to assume that the sales department was simply trained with different information than the service department was.  This is still a huge oversight, however, and an example of miscommunication between departments that affects every consumer at this dealership.  The fact that both departments were unwilling to speak to the other when I made the request shows that they operate as silos and are nowhere near ready to integrate their marketing communications.

In the end, it doesn't really matter if the sales department was simply misinformed or if they were being downright dishonest; the end result was the same.  They lost a sale that day (note from Jim:  they lost a sale from a "loyal" customer).  How many sales will they have to lose to take a look at consistency in their communications?

- Katie Jolly, graduate student in the Marketing Communications program at The University of Kansas and a Communications Professional at a health care information technology company

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