In­side Trans­port

Car deal­ers must be­come more cus­tomer friendly, writes Alas­tair Dal­ton

The Scotsman - - Perspective -

Watch­ing Top Gear’s en­thu­si­as­tic and knowl­edge­able au­di­ence, you might think peo­ple who work in the mo­tor trade would be equally switched on and ea­ger to talk all things car.

How­ever, of all the trans­port modes I cover, mo­tor­ing is the area from which I get the least pos­i­tive vibes, with some – but not all – of its prac­ti­tion­ers among the least en­gag­ing.

It is the means of trans­port that most of us spend the most money on, and stub­bornly re­mains the choice of two in three Scot­tish com­muters.

How­ever, the re­cep­tion that peo­ple get from the mo­tor trade can be brusque, off-hand and even un­friendly.

At a time when good cus­tomer ser­vice is a pre­req­ui­site for suc­cess in many parts of the econ­omy, some car deal­ers ap­pear stuck in a time warp when it comes to en­sur­ing pop­u­lar sat­is­fac­tion with deal­ing with sales peo­ple and ser­vice staff.

Per­haps garages sell­ing some ma­jor car brands don’t bother try­ing too hard be­cause they have lo­cal mo­nop­o­lies on that make of ve­hi­cle and count on own­ers not both­er­ing to go else­where to get their car ser­viced.

Cer­tain deal­ers also clearly do not feel the need to stay open when peo­ple are most likely to want to visit, with spare parts and ser­vic­ing not avail­able on a Saturday af­ter­noon or Sunday in some cases.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, af­ter en­coun­ter­ing such a “shut hap­pens” at­ti­tude, some of those “sales ad­vis­ers” who are still float­ing around have even failed to en­sure some­one will call back when such de­part­ments re-open, as they said they would.

That is, once one has ap­peared. I have, on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, wan­dered round de­serted show­rooms for sev­eral min­utes, wait­ing for staff be­fore any­one of­fers to as­sist.

As for bring­ing your car in for ser­vice, I’ve found it can be one of the most de­press­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

Glum staff can make the process ex­cru­ci­at­ing. Ironic when your car is likely to have been your sec­ond big­gest pur­chase af­ter your home, and one with which many peo­ple pos­sess with pride. This can be com­pounded for those with lim­ited au­to­mo­tive knowl­edge, who can feel in­ti­mated by be­ing told about faults and re­pairs in com­pli­cated, tech­ni­cal lan­guage rather than plain English.

This is sur­pris­ing, be­cause deal­ers can make more money from ser­vic­ing and other af­ter­sales care than sell­ing cars.

How­ever, per­haps car deal­ers’ most ques­tion­able prac­tice is to try to get you to buy a new ve­hi­cle be­fore you know it.

It’s galling to have sourced a spe­cific model and colour of car, only to re­ceive, within two years of pur­chase, a pre­sum­ably au­to­mated email sug­gest­ing you might like to change it for some­thing else en­tirely.

But the whole process of seek­ing to per­suade driv­ers to re­new their ve­hi­cles, say ev­ery three years, must also be ques­tion­able.

Yes, it means a – prob­a­bly – greener and less pol­lut­ing model tak­ing the older car’s place on the roads. That then might have a domino ef­fect in the used car mar­ket, with the old­est ve­hi­cles be­ing scrapped at the end of the chain.

But we must be sure it is not sim­ply swelling the ve­hi­cle fleet, with the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of man­u­fac­tur­ing cars be­ing off­set by them be­ing used to the max be­fore be­ing binned, Such sig­nif­i­cant as­sets should not be that dis­pos­able,

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