Nesselsdorf T - 2 cars in Tatra Museum
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The recent bad weather has made me really think about changing my car. The car I have is just an absolute nightmare at navigating through snow or anything that is slippy enough to make a 4 legged animal lose their grip once in a while. The rear wheel drive aspect doesn’t help either.

I’m not fortunate enough to have the money to outlay on a fancy new 4×4 or anything of the sort, so a modest used front wheel drive car with little cost to change will suffice.

My first port of call, like a lot of people in Ireland I’d say was CarZone. There were mountains of offers available and a lot of what seemed like extremely great prices. I must have emailed at least 30 different car dealers to get an idea of how much I would be looking in therms of cost to change to one of the cars of my choice.

The email was pretty detailed, with information on my car, the mileage, features, size of the engine etc and all I basically asked for was a rough estimate on how much it would cost to buy the particular car in question.

And this is where it all went terribly wrong from an Internet point of view.

Car dealers have had it so good for so long that they are generally way behind in terms of running their business online. “Who’d ever buy a car online” is something I’d hear a lot – well quite clearly, not many people would be willing to buy a car online, but one thing is for sure, they will research to their hearts content as to what car they are most interested in owning.

I guess it’s not surprising that a business that has never needed the Internet to make sales, can overlook the power of the web and be quite poor at it, but what I got in return, I must admit that I was quite shocked by it.

The first response I received was quite impressive, although the way in which the email was presented was a little unprofessional it responded nicely to my query and gave me a clear indication of an estimated price to change. I didn’t feel like I was getting a good deal, so I thanked him and let him know that I expected to get more for my car. I didn’t get a response to this, which is fair enough.

The next response to my email was from one car dealer who thought the best way to make a sale from my email was to simple say “I’d have to see the car”. Not a “Hi Tom”, nor a “thanks for your email, but I’m not interested in taking your car” and not even a simple “good bye”. No this car dealer felt that his simple and quite rude response was in someway going to make me drive half way across the city to see a car that may not even be what I’m looking for.

It’s very sad to say that he wasn’t the only car dealer that thought this type of response was sufficient. No, pretty much every other car dealer that emailed me had the same tone. Typically for me, if I don’t receive a half decent response or no response at all, I tend not to do business with that company again. However, I thought that since car dealers are only now starting to take the web seriously that I would give them all the benefit of the doubt and since only 9 car dealers responded to my email (yes only 9 out of 30!), it wouldn’t be hard for me to respond to each individually.

My responding question to “I’d have to see the car”, was :

Thanks for your reply,

I totally understand that you would need to see my car before you can give me a price on the cost of change. But would it be possible for you to give me a rough estimate on cost so that I can see if it’s worth my while driving over to you to your car.

Thanks a million,

Quite a reasonable response I thought???

Yet, I only get 2 responses to those 9 emails. One responded with “I can’t give you a price, I’d have to see the car”. The other car dealer came back with a really great email, explaining that he couldn’t give me a definitive price but it would be between x and y and that I should pop over and have a test drive. I was please with this type of response as he clearly took more time and effort to respond to me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it out to him beofre the car was sold – but I will definitely look at this car dealer in the future if he has car that I’m interested in as although he had a poor start, his final response really made me feel like he wanted to do business with me.

I’m sure plenty of car dealers would be happy to point out that they get a lot of “tyre kickers”, a phrase obviously borne out of this industry. But the problem with that is, that rather than treating everyone as a potential customer, they are treating them as a “tyre kicker”. I was someone with a little cash to spend, ready to do a deal at the right price, yet I was treated like someone who was never going to do a deal at all.

Of the others that didn’t respond, I’m sure there were many reasons why they didn’t bother responding, from not being interested in taking my car as a trade-in, to not having the car I was interested in in-stock anymore. Fair enough, but the thing is, I’ll remember those people that didn’t respond and I won’t ever give them my business in the future.

I think it’s fair to say that CarZone is hugely important to most Car Dealers, in terms of generating business from the web. This is probably another one of the reasons Car Dealers haven’t felt the need to take control of their web presence. When a website as busy as CarZone is sending you regular sales leads from the web, there seems to be no reason to have a website at all.

I have heard through the grapevine that car dealers aren’t as happy with CarZone as they were in the past, due to many reasons such as price and problems with the new owners. I can’t comment on how bad the situation is, but I have noticed new competiting car dealer websites popping up and taking a slice of the market, something you wouldn’t have seen a year or two ago.

We all know that the web will continue to become more important as we head in the future and there are only a few Car Dealers who take the web seriously. Therefore those that don’t will most definitely be left behind. At the moment, for most small car dealers a presence on CarZone at the moment is a sufficient way of marketing your business online. But “marketing” doesn’t end with just being visibile on a hugely popular website.

Car dealers clearly need to understand how important it is to interact with potential customers over the internet to truly maximise the opportunities it brings to them. They should teach their staff how to interact with potential customers through email. They should understand that because sending an email is so simple, so should the ability to interact with a sales person through it be too.

There are clearly constraints to the business in terms of being able to give prices etc over email but this should not stop them from being able to entice people to come out and meet them. If their ultimate goal is to get someone onto to their forecourt, give them a reason to come out. “I’d have to see the car” as bluntly as that would never make me visit a car dealership and I’m sure I’m not alone on that front. Engaging with me and explaining to me why you can’t give me a price would put me at ease and allow me to make my decision as to whether or not it’s worthwhile travelling to the other side of the city rather than going to my local dealer.

I know for a lot of people in the car dealership trade that this will be a massive sea change in how they work. But it’s not hard and it’s not really far removed from your current working methodologies. So in short you should be trying to do it now and get ahead of the rest, because if you do, you well most definitely be ahead of the competition in terms of your online customer service.

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