Alastair Dalton: Car dealers must become more customer friendly

Cars are our most popular form of transport and one of our most valuable possessions. Picture: Justin Spittle
Cars are our most popular form of transport and one of our most valuable possessions. Picture: Justin Spittle
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Watching Top Gear’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience, you might think people who work in the motor trade would be equally switched on and eager to talk all things car.

However, of all the transport modes I cover, motoring is the area from which I get the least positive vibes, with some - but not all - of its practitioners among the least engaging.

It is the means of transport that most of us spend the most money on, and stubbornly remains the choice of two in three Scottish commuters.

However, the reception that people get from the motor trade can be brusque, off-hand and even unfriendly.

At a time when good customer service is a prerequisite for success in many parts of the economy, some car dealers appear stuck in a time warp when it comes to ensuring popular satisfaction with dealing with sales people and service staff.

Perhaps garages selling some major car brands don’t bother trying too hard because they have local monopolies on that make of vehicle and count on owners not bothering to go elsewhere to get their car serviced.

Certain dealers also clearly do not feel the need to stay open when people are most likely to want to visit, with spare parts and servicing not available on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday in some cases.

In my experience, after encountering such a “shut happens” attitude, some of those “sales advisors” who are still floating around have even failed to ensure someone will call back when such departments re-open, as they said they would.

That is, once one has appeared. I have, on several occasions, wandered round deserted showrooms for several minutes, waiting for staff before anyone offers to assist.

As for bringing your car in for service, I’ve found it can be one of the most depressing experiences.

Glum staff can make the process excruciating. Ironic when your car is likely to have been your second biggest purchase after your home, and one with which many people possess with pride.

This can be compounded for those with limited automotive knowledge, who can feel intimated by being told about faults and repairs in complicated, technical language rather than plain English.

This is surprising, because dealers can make more money from servicing and other after-sales care than selling cars.

However, perhaps car dealers’ most questionable practice is to try to get you to buy a new vehicle before you know it.

It’s galling to have sourced a specific model and colour of car, only to receive, within two years of purchase, a presumably automated email suggesting you might like to change it for something else entirely.

But the whole process of seeking to persuade drivers to renew their vehicles, say every three years, must also be questionable.

Yes, it means a - probably - greener and less polluting model taking the older car’s place on the roads. That then might have a domino effect in the used car market, with the oldest vehicles being scrapped at the end of the chain.

But we must be sure it is not simply swelling the vehicle fleet, with the environmental impact of manufacturing cars being offset by them being used to the max before being binned, Such significant assets should not be that disposable,