Conclusions from the “What will it take” post

Comments are now close on the What Will It Take article I posted earlier. I’d like to thank (almost) everyone for their thoughts and comments. There was some great stuff there and plenty of food for thought for Saab themselves, dealers, national Saab bodies and customers as well.

There are a couple of initial themes that I picked up on when reading through the comments, which I thought I’d bring to the front page here.

Sales experience

There were a number of complaints raised about the sales experience. People commented about a level of arrogance displayed by some salespeople, as well as a lack of knowledge with regard to the Saabs those salepeople were trying to sell.

To my eyes, where dealers were named as giving a poor experience, some of those dealers had smaller Saab stores attached to multi-brand operations, indicating that maybe those dealers weren’t overly dedicated to the Saab brand. That’s the inference that I drew, at least. I know it doesn’t apply to all multi-brand operations because there are some very good ones out there.

Service experience

The things that make me angriest are hearing stories about service departments ripping people off. It wasn’t Saab related, but 74Stingray’s story is a classic:

I used to have a chevy dealer hit me with a “headlight alignment” for $30 during the yearly inspection. The night before the last car went in, I discreetely marked the headlight adjusting screws….. yep, they never touched them but they charged me…. needless to say I got my money back and never went back.

In the same comment, Stingray also talks about his dealer dropping the price for a basic oil and filter change from $99 to $69…..

I’ll just spend the extra money and let my dealership do it while I look at the new 9-5 and enjoy free coffee.

Result!

At $99 he’d do the oil change himself at home. At $69 they’re not making as much money per service, but they’re making some sort of margin and they’re getting a customer poking around the new 9-5, the 9-3x etc.

The lesson learned (for the service dept)- charge a realistic price and build a relationship with your customer. Dealers need long-term relationships. Why put that in jeapoardy over something stupid like a false $30 headlamp alignment that’s a) quite high on a customer’s list of potential rorts, and b) so easily confirmed as such.

That Chevy dealer lost a potential long-term customer over $30. I realise Chevy service outlets may not often be the beneficiaries of long-term customer loyalty, but still, it’s amazing.

Mutual Respect

I want to thank the couple of dealers who got involved in the conversation in this post. Your input is quite valuable in this context and I thought your contributions added to the discussion.

To those few who took at is an opportunity to jump down the throats of those dealers, I’d suggest you go take a good, long, hard look at yourselves. This thread would have benefitted a lot more from more dealer involvement, but if the few who do chime in are attacked at the onset, then how are more going to be encouraged to join the discussion?

I think many of the flaws in the dealership experience could be addressed with a good dose of mutual respect – from both the dealer and the customer. There’s got to be a way of setting up this experience so that it’s not so adversarial. I’ve never lived with a Saturn dealership, but I believe they only held on as long as they did because the customer relations model was so good (it certainly wasn’t the product). Maybe there are some lessons to be learned there.

Nothing comes for free

I alluded to it at the top of the discussion and sure enough, there were still people calling for more free stuff. That’s OK, actually, as long as you don’t call for cheaper cars at the same time.

Understand this, as knowing what’s involved in the full scenario is part of the mutual respect thing – stuff costs money. You will pay for it either at the purchase, or during the service relationship. You can’t have it both ways.

——

Perhaps these suggestions might be of value…..

  • Saab need to offer cars that people want to buy. Current models are very good, but Saab will probably need to reach people outside the enthusiast circle to sell much of the 2010 stock and advertising should be geared towards drawing those people in.
  • It would be really helpful if upgrade options were available in the US market. Perhaps a good way to draw the enthusiast circle in is to offer them the ability to customise or uprate their car. I’ve been calling for Hirsch to be available in the US for over five years now. A smaller, more nimble Saab company should be able to do this.
  • The flipside to this is that customers don’t whine when they see what Hirsch costs. I think the recent Saab 9-3x vs Subaru Outback post highlighted how some car companies manage to survive in the US. It’s called de-contenting. You get what you pay for. Hirsch stuff is not cheap, but it’s factory backed and it’s very, very good.
  • Training, follow-up and feedback. These are so, so important. The strongest dealerships that I’ve seen have a dedication to the brand that’s unquestionable, have staff that are knowledgeable and a customer service ethic that’s based on relationships and being good at what they do. This takes time and it benefits from training, follow-up and feedback.
  • Customers, you have the right to wait until the right product for you is offered by Saab. You shouldn’t be pressured into buying for the sake of sympathy or anything else. Cars cost a lot of money. But just as dealers and service departments shouldn’t gouge prices on parts, etc, customers shouldn’t try and screw the dealer over, either. I guess this comes back to the mutual respect thing. Maybe the whole process is just a challenge for some? I don’t know.
  • I was surprised at the number of people who asked for 0% financing in comments. Saab are currently offering 0% financing for up to 72 months. This tells me that they’re not getting the word out effectively enough. Personally, my advice would be to get finance organised before you go to the dealership. Then you’re effectively a cash buyer and in a good position for some fair negotiations.
  • Satellite service outlets must be something to consider. The US is a big place so you’re never going to cover everybody, but being able to cover more people would have to provide advantages. This is why independents exist, to service those who a) aren’t happy with the service provided by dealers, and/or b) don’t live close to a dealer anymore. There must be an arrangement that can make this work for Saab, dealers and customers.
  • Dealers also need to look at what they can do to get people back inside their doors. I think Eggs made some great points here:

    Even the most hardcore among us have been challenged from time to time at the magnitude of severity and cost of repairs for the newer (1995+) Saabs. Have you taken advantage of your customers and charged large amounts or invented reasons to replace large components? Have you nickeled and dimed your customers when they visit your shop? Have you supported your customers as they expect? In many cases, the answers to these questions is NOT in accordance with the way that customers want to be treated. Don’t expect to hang out a “Under New Management” sign and get those people back overnight.

    Like I said before, some dealerships have done the vast majority of these things right. Some haven’t, however.

  • There has been some talk about guaranteed residuals, which would change the face of leasing completely. I don’t know what can be done in this regard, but if there’s anything still under consideration, then please consider quickly.
  • ——

    We all face a long road ahead. New product is still needed. Upgraded or upgradeable existing product would be welcome. Service would be welcome. A real ‘Saab experience’ would be ideal.

    I’m thankful that there are a lot of people who are good customers, who already have good relationships with good dealerships. I hope those situations are something that Saab can look at as a model, and grow.

    Thanks again for all your contributions.

    wpDiscuz