What Buying a Car Taught Me About Customer Service

There’s nothing like firsthand experience to teach you lessons in life and in business. It’s interesting what transpires when you expect salespeople to act the way you would act if you were in their position. It was an eye-opening experience to be the customer at the other end of a sales deal. These are some of the lessons I learned through the process:

1. Listen to your customer:

I had a very clear idea of what I wanted when I started looking for a car. I travel around Johannesburg for business all the time, and I wanted my commute to be as pleasant as possible. Anyone who lives here knows that traffic is a nightmare, and driving 10 km per hour is absolutely a thing. Therefore, I decided to look for an automatic car with low mileage and the balance of a service plan. All of this had to happen within budget constraints, but I wasn’t interested in financing that included a residual payment. Nearly every single salesperson I came across took umbrage with the fact that I wasn’t prepared to lower my expectations. Some tried to sell me expensive cars with 30% residual payments. If I’d been uninformed, I could have gotten myself into a financial predicament I’m not comfortable with. Others explained that automatic cars are more expensive, which I understand. Instead of admitting they couldn’t help me, they tried to convince me to settle for a manual car. All of this left me feeling like no one was really listening to me, and that they didn’t have my best interests at heart. Because I had done research online before visiting dealerships, I knew my requirements were not outlandish, yet everyone made me feel like I was expecting the impossible. Instead of seeing where they could accommodate me, they tried to get me to change my mind because it suited them. Christmas was around the corner and targets had to be met. This experience reiterated how important it is to listen to your customers. Your customer has a problem that needs fixing, and in this case, the problem wasn’t just the need for a car. It was the need for a comfortable driving experience at an affordable price. Knowing the difference is key to offering excellent service.

2. Communication needs to happen on the customer’s terms:

One of the dealerships I found online only communicates with customers via Whatsapp. I wanted to buy a car, not a secondhand golf club, but I couldn’t get them to return my call. Needless to say, I went elsewhere, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much business they lose because they’re not willing to communicate in a way that suits their customers.

3. Know your product:

When you’re selling to a customer, you should be able to answer all of their questions regarding your product. If you can’t, be willing to get back to them with the answer asap. I test drove a car with a turbo engine. I had to read up online because the salesman failed to explain the difference between a car with and without a turbo. Don’t assume that your customer knows the ins and outs of your service offering because you’ve been working with it for years, and don’t make them feel dumb for asking. It’s your job to inform and educate your customer, do so with grace. There was a gentleman at a dealership I visited who was incredibly helpful. He allowed me to test drive more than one car and answered every question I had. I could tell that he’s had years of experience and I found him so helpful. If I’d had a choice, I would have bought a car from him, but unfortunately, he didn’t have an automatic car available. I left my card with him and had he phoned me with new stock, I would have been there in a heartbeat.

4. Do whatever you can to make the sales experience a smooth one for your customers.

One dealer offered to deliver a car for a test drive. I thought that was a brilliant idea. People have busy lives, and he was prepared to do whatever it took for me to be able to test drive the car. Unfortunately, it was a terribly drab looking car and I just couldn’t get past its looks. What can I say? Aesthetics are important.

5. Be transparent with your pricing.

I finally came across a dealership that had a car that matched all my requirements. I test drove the demo model and I loved the car. The seats were more comfortable than other cars I’d driven, and the dashboard was sleek, unlike some of the cars I looked at. In fact, the car is beautiful from every angle, unlike many of the cars had seen. I was so excited! The salesman told me that they had a special on the new model, and he effectively offered me a new car at the same price as the demo model. I was impressed. I felt like I’d just hit the jackpot. I asked him about extras like smash-and-grab, and he told me everything was included in the price. Naturally, I thought that everything was included in the price. Wouldn’t that be your conclusion if the salesman told you that? Well…I was wrong. When I finally received the paperwork from the bank, they’d added an additional R18 000 to my financing. This included all sorts of fees I wasn’t even aware of. When I queried this, they sent me a document that had my signature on it. I’d signed it, so I was liable for the fees, but I felt duped because I had specifically asked them about additional fees to avoid this scenario, and they lied when they told me it was all included. There are stacks of papers to sign when you’re buying a new car. I tried to be vigilant, but this slipped past me. The car is beautiful and it drives like a dream. I probably still would have bought it if they’d been upfront about the additional fees, but I wouldn’t have felt conned by the dealership. Nobody likes surprises like this. If you’re quoting your customer, make sure that they understand exactly what they’re liable for, in every possible scenario. It gives them the opportunity to make an informed decision. Then, when they choose to make use of your services, they do so with upfront knowledge of the costs. It’s what you would want, isn’t it?

In short, you’re selling to your customer to solve their particular pain point. The salesperson benefiting from that transaction is a by-product of the process, not its goal. I think it was good for me to be on the buyer’s side of the transaction for a change. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned. Here’s to a successful and prosperous 2019 for us all!

Until next time,


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