Everyone who has stepped inside a car showroom has a view on car dealers. Most people will also have a story to tell, chances are it won’t be positive and is likely to end in a punch line involving a shake of the head, an intake of breath and an exorbitant charge.
Car dealers, like estate agents, get a bad rap. They are, after all, at the sharp end of a major purchase when high expectations are easily dashed by poor service.
I get to spend a lot of time with dealer bosses and all will say how they are driven by a desire to weed out shoddy practices and be recognised in their locality as the best at what they do. See it from the dealer's perspective. Margins on new cars are wafer thin, the days of churning out large volumes of pre-registered metal and reaping fast rewards are long gone. For dealers to make a decent return they must try and close every deal with an array of point of sale add-ons ranging from finance, extended warranties and GAP insurance to car care products. More important though, especially for fleet customers, is retaining their service and repair work; this keeps workshops busy and adds to the bottom line.
These days showrooms also have to contend with every customer being a potential online critic, especially with a growing number of dealer websites now hosting Feefo and Reevo feeds on their home pages. Dealers know that disgruntled customers can and will air their grievances while nonchalantly sipping at a coffee in their reception areas. There is nowhere to hide, which is why many dealers have raised their games in recent years and taken a leaf out of the customer service experience effortlessly delivered by the likes of Apple Stores and John Lewis.
So are retail and fleet customers noticing a change in the way they are served by dealers? A good indicator is published every summer by Auto Express, the results are always enlightening and treated very seriously by the car manufacturers.
The 2014 Driver Power survey polled the views of 50,000 drivers who were asked for their views on the helpfulness, workmanship, cleanliness, technical knowledge, cost and value for money of the dealers they use.
The biggest complaint about dealers was their inability to identify faults, while most faults were found to be of an electrical nature. Even allowing for the increased complexity of modern cars, this is a still a staggering result considering the huge investment franchised dealers make in brand specific diagnostic gear, the availability of direct assistance from manufacturers and the high level of technician training which is expected of workshop staff, especially in the franchised sector. Unforgivably, the second biggest grievance was unanswered phone calls followed by a failure to never satisfactorily explain a problem.
So who were the winners and losers and do they reflect your experience as a fleet manager?
Top honours, for the second year in a row, went to Lexus. The competition for the remaining top five positions was very close with Honda taking second place followed in quick succession by Porsche, Skoda and Subaru. The German brands all under-performed with Mercedes at 21, BMW at 22 and Audi at 26.
Sitting at the bottom of the chart, for the second year in a row, at 32 was SEAT which scored the lowest points across six of the seven criteria. More surprisingly though was sister brand Volkswagen, a marque more used to taking plaudits, falling six places to 31, scoring poorly across all criteria, and rated the second lowest for the standard of workmanship and helpfulness. Uncomfortable questions about both brands will be asked at Volkswagen Group’s HQ.
For the record the two biggest fleet brands fared poorly with Vauxhall at 20 and Ford at 27.
What does the survey tell us? It confirms that every car brand still has a long way to go to beat Lexus’ customer focused approach. While Lexus does not do anything radically different, its ranking is down to its dealers not just being good at what they do but being consistently good.