Is customer service the lost art of car sales?

I’ve bought quite a lot of cars in the last 7 years, ranging in price, age and condition. What’s always shocked me is my best buying experiences have come from private sellers and my worst are typically from dealerships. With a recent experience altering my perception of a brand altogether.

Story time

My first fast Ford was a dealership purchase, the car was a little overpriced, however it was delivered to my door, I was able to test drive and inspect before signing the documents. So overall not a bad experience, but not brilliant either as they were pushy with their finance and didn’t explain the deal very well. My Audi RS7 was my first bitter experience with a dealership. I’d found the car online on a major site and called immediately to secure it with a deposit. After several failed phone calls I left an email before calling one last time to leave a securing deposit. The car was well presented and I was granted a solo test drive and as much inspection time as I deemed suitable. It was when the topic of price arose that my issues seemed to begin, the salesmen were uninterested and insisted I spoke to head office on the phone. I wasn’t happy about some missing paperwork, overdue service and short MOT, (all rectifiable of course) the condition of the front discs wasn’t brilliant either. I made an offer which was accepted, however the previously silent salesmen became bullish, trying to push me with their shitty warranty which wouldn’t cover a thing. They described it as a “big pot” we can all share up to the value of the vehicle. Basically the “pyramid scheme” scene from Peep Show. I turned down the warranty which magically halved in price after doing so! Snide remarks about my ability to run the car were then made, at which point I reminded them I paid for the car in full on my Debit Card. I returned the next day to collect my car freshly serviced and with 12 months MOT, only to find it so out of fuel it didn’t register at all. Once filled with V-power I was greeted with the EML, as the engine ran so lean most likely during its fast idle test, that the influx of fuel had upset it. I had to return for the third time! To have the error investigated, reset and test driven again, what was an exciting £30k plus purchase was now tarnished by inconvenience and poor service. I was offered a cup of coffee from the service department though, every cloud and that..

Do dealerships want sales?

I’m known for being a miserable bastard in general, unless I’m buying a car, car parts or copious amounts of food. However I believe that customer service is paramount, someone’s shitty attitude can not just ruin your day but nullify a sale in seconds. I recently popped into Swindon Audi to look at an Audi TT with a family friend. The vehicle was dumped out the back despite being reserved. Even with it being just 2 years old and covering little over 10,000 miles it had also failed an MOT for a broken seat motor. When I asked the sales staff for the “Audi approved” checklist to ascertain how a broken seat had been missed on a check then allowed to fail an MOT almost a year before it was due. I was greeted with “it’s cheaper for us to MOT a vehicle at £40, than do our full inspection”. So to summarise they’re happy to tarnish a nearly new cars MOT history with a failure instead of investigating faults throughly during their “approved” inspection. This makes me question had the check been carried out at all? A deposit had been placed on the vehicle before this point and after I’d asked for the checklist the general manager was called out to shoo us away as “difficult customers”. Swindon branch were incredibly defensive and rude considering this was a £21,000 car we were halfway though the sales process with. They claim their vehicles need to be sold with a minimum amount of MOT, yet the vehicle was tested 2 months before a deposit had been left. Now that we’ve walked away from the sale the TT will likely sit abandoned in the yard until the next prospective buyer is lied to about it’s poor preparation and questionable history. I think what disappointed me most is the fact it’s December, in the middle of a national pandemic and we were willing to spend the £21,000 on a convertible sports car. My RS7 deal may have had hiccups with vehicle prep but the sales staff were polite and friendly and couldn’t do enough to help seal the deal. The reception at Swindon Audi was certainly frosty and dismissive. My honest advice is always do a Gov.uk MOT history check and a HPI as soon as you’re interested in a vehicle and know it’s available you never know what you might find.

Private sales experience

I’ve bought the majority of my cars from private sellers and honestly most have been terrific. However there are some inconveniences along the way, most notable is paying for it. You can’t just pop your pin in with your card it’s often a BACS transfer, which as I learned last week can take a solid 4 hours. You also won’t receive a warranty however you can have professional inspections carried out before parting with your cash for piece of mind. These are often backed with a financial guarantee should they miss anything. I’ve been very lucky that all of the cars I’ve bought have been freshly cleaned, polished and look fantastic. You’re buying someone’s pride and joy in most cases and this can often be seen when you arrive. If a car looks unloved on the surface it probably is underneath as well. Most dealerships throw a bucket of water,sponge and shammy leather over your car so bare that in mind, they will also be sat on a forecourt for weeks/months at a time.

With the current global climate the buyer is in the strongest position they’ve been for a while. So shop around, make offers and view as many cars as possible, there will be some great deals available especially in the winter months. If you’re buying a vehicle over 3 years old and it’s out of manufacturers warranty, read the small print on any warranty you’re offered. Most will not cover consumables so sadly your starter-motor, clutch and alternator will fall into the same category as tires and brakes so you’ll have to foot the bill yourself. Food for thought.

Published by Sam Busby

a big nosed bearded idiot who likes to write about cars. Lucky enough to have owned a few quick ones too.

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