Talk the talk
Carmakers like to talk the talk when it comes to how they deliver customer satisfaction to fleets. I’ve lost count of the number of car bosses I’ve sat down with and been told how their company has reviewed the way their dealer networks service fleets and put in systems and processes aimed at making them the market leader.
Their motives are laudable. After all carmaker dealer networks were set up with retail customers in mind. These days the sumptuous colour co-ordinated showrooms, steel and glass beacons to the oneness of corporate identity, are all about delivering a retailing experience. Forecourt bunting and balloons are passé; upmarket coffee machines, interactive virtual model displays and helpful product gurus are the latest modus operandi.
The car retailing environment has evolved. It had too. But whether carmakers can ever get close to their collective aspiration of delivering Apple Store levels of customer service is unlikely. We are, after all, talking about big ticket purchases which are more often than not a necessity and one that will inevitably require expensive servicing and repair work somewhere down the line. Let’s face it, a customer walking into a car dealership is in a much different frame of mind than someone agonising over how many gigabytes their next iPad must have.
So where does this leave the fleet customer? Unfortunately what can often sound like a good idea on a flip chart in a carmaker’s strategy meeting, will not necessary play well in downtown Dundee, uptown Uxbridge or central Croydon where it is always a question of dealer priorities, resources and training.
So how are fleet services being delivered by dealers? Having spoken to plenty of dealer group bosses about how they tackle fleet I’ve had the impression this part of the business was neatly wrapped up and implemented through seamless processes. This, unfortunately, is not the norm.
Karl Davis is a consultant at Coachwork Consulting, the independent automotive specialist, and has worked on both sides of the fence as a retailer and manufacturer. He knows the problems and advises both sides on how to tackle fleet at local level. Some get it, others don’t.
Interestingly he feels some manufacturers still have insufficient processes in place, especially when it comes to looking after cars for SMR jobs. The manufacturer fleet model is all about winning car sales; fixing them afterwards is often an afterthought.
The best dealers know this so actively target local businesses for this work, not just through golf days, but through presenting cast iron business cases on why they are the best people to look after fleet cars.
‘Sadly I think there’s too little direction from too many manufacturers, especially when it comes to aftersales. If a brand is doing well on the sales front, with customers queuing up to place orders, then there’s a lack of hunger for doing the harder stuff like aftersales. Manufacturers are very good at selling cars into fleets but not the aftersales services; there’s a lack of joined up thinking,’ said Davis.
Unfortunately, even on the sales side dealers do not always get it right and that’s because there’s a longstanding cultural nut that needs cracking. Sales staff are there to sell cars and earn commission, not to generate business for their workshop colleagues. That’s why it’s often easier for a user-chooser to pretend to be a retail buyer to secure a test drive, that way they know they’ll get some good customer service.
‘There’s almost a sub-conscious roll of the eyes when it becomes apparent to a salesperson they’re dealing with a company car driver; they should be treated like VIPs, just like retail customers.’
Indeed Davis believes the pivotal role played by user-choosers is often misjudged by dealers, to their cost.
‘There’s plenty of evidence that fleets are telling drivers to go to franchised dealers for repair work as their first port of call, but the moment they have a problem with their dealer they should go to one of the national aftermarket chains. That’s why the retailer should make sure the fleet user’s experience is great.’
So, it’s all about getting the basics right, and how difficult can that really be…