Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Cain and Abel Story of a Car Dealership

Toyota Kluger Final, a photo by Mervin Chiang on Flickr.
Warning: This entry is a mix of professional, personal and academic ranting… A usual side effect from being a Research ProfDoc student at QUT, a Business Process Improvement and Management Consultant and well… being me! Also, this is a VERY LONG post!

Disclaimer: What you’re about to read is purely from my perspective as a customer at these dealerships. By no means is this a stereo-type or is it meant to be a professional review of any sort. My hypotheses are merely my own and has no scientific backing. It is, after all, ONE customer’s experience. But hey, isn’t that what it’s about in the service industry – A successfully GOOD customer experience?

So why did I call this entry “Cain and Abel”? Well, if you are familiar with the bible, Cain and Abel are the 2 opposite children from the same parents, Adam and Eve. One represented what was done right in God’s eyes and the other represented all the things you should not be doing! In this case, the “Parent” is the car dealership Eagers. The “Good” kid - Abel - Eagers Holder. The “Bad” kid - Cain – Eagers Kia.

Ironically, we bought a Toyota!... Anyway, we had the pleasure (and pain) to have met both of these “child” dealerships as we narrowed our search for a new (used) car down to these 2 places that have what we want. The weekend that ensued was nothing short of a mini drama series in itself. Well, you have to understand that we had 2 kids in tow; one was a 7 month old baby! So you can imagine how a “customer experience” is quite important when in a situation with juggling decision making, nappy changing and test driving car comes into play.

Before I continue, I’d like to also write about why I decided to write this blog that is non-photography related (again) and put it here. Besides the fact that I have nowhere else to post this, I wanted to write somewhere to commend one dealership and at the same time “constructively criticise” the other. Also, as part of my academic quest, I’ve been recently studying organisational behaviour. Particularly how a “Healthy” organisation fair as opposed to what I’d like to call an “unhealthy” or “toxic” one. (Concept derived from the book: “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni).

Back to the story… In order to relate my experience, let’s dissect it…

First Contact:
Like most typical customer, I sent an enquiry through Carsales in to all my shortlisted parties and waited for a response. “Abel” replied within the hour with a cheery discussion about the weather over the phone and answered all my questions and concerns around financing, etc… He got the financing side to call me within the next 30mins which they did. All good.

Why “Cain” then? I normally wouldn’t but the car they had over at “Cain’s” side had a particular feature that is rare and is something we really want in a car we’re looking for. Otherwise, this whole episode would be a non-event… It would have been: Customer-see-car -> Customer-meet-Abel -> Customer-buy-car -> Customer-happy… NOoo…

After waiting a whole day with nothing, I had to call “Cain”! Asked and mentioned all the same stuff I did like in “Abel’s” call, but I felt I was hurried through the enquiry with no interest to ask me more about what I’m looking for. Said someone will call me back about my finance and other questions. Do you think I got any call back that day?... Free AIR for guessing the right answer!

Test Drive Day:
Come test drive day, we went to “Abel” first. I told them up front that I had a car to view at “Cain’s” that had something we really wanted. I didn’t want to waste their time going through a discussion that might go nowhere. I like to be upfront this way. They were ok with it… Offered us drinks, coffee, tea. Overall very friendly, warm and personable. The test drive was very nice and we talked about general things and rather uneventful. They had a nice little office with a couch and an old TV. Nothing flash, but very “homely” :)

“Cain’s”? Well, he got back to me eventually. Apologising about something along the lines of: the-fact-that-something-is-more-important-than-me. I kind of tuned out after the first sentence. When we met, it all seemed ok. He was friendly enough. “Cain’s” place is bigger and more “flashy” than “Abel’s”. However, besides the fact that the car had this little extra thing, the car was shabbier looking that what “Abel” had to offer. The test drive? After my comment about us seeing another car at “Abel” and the fact that this one is worn out looking comparing to that, the whole car ride was all about how he lost the detailing guy, how he used to own a car dealership, what his son does and what thinks about his wife’s spending and opinions. Interesting how all these had anything to do with me wanting to buy a car… Hmm…

The (Wrong first) decision:
Despite a somewhat weird sales experience where the entire episode was about the life of a car salesman rather than the car in which we want to buy, we felt that the feature was important enough to want to buy this more worn out car than the one from “Abel”.

This was the start of the fall of “Cain”. The whole process was very mechanical. See trade-in-car, quote lowest possible price to trade in car, squint when asked if more discounts can be had, shows me that they are making a loss (like I care), shove me to the finance person, tells me that there is nothing more they can do. Mind you, the car specs are almost identical (Cain and Abel’s).

When we decided that we had indeed made a wrong decision to buy here and that we shouldn’t be bullied into buying something from somewhere that had this feature ONLY and nothing else going for it and to live with a worn out, expensive car, with a bad taste in the mouth, we left. I tried to be nice to look for the car salesman to tell him we’re leaving. He was already talking to someone else, walked right past me! I had to call out to him to tell him we’re leaving. I think I heard a grunt noise of some sort in response. With that we pretty much left, wife and kids in tow with our nappy bags. Any drinks, coffee, tea you think? Help yourself to free AIR for the right answer…

The second (right) decision:
We went back to “Abel”. Best decision we’ve made. Despite not having this feature in the car, we had a very personal experience. The whole team was friendly. Our daughter sat on their couch and watched shows. We were offered tea and coffee. They got lots of balloons for Mikaela. End to end, very personal, professional and friendly service. Answered all our questions and were very patient. We even get a better deal with them. How is that possible? You might ask… Same car specs, but “Cain” was telling us that they are making a loss and can’t go lower. Neither should I, the customer, care. All I care about is the bottom line. It’s cheaper – “Abel’s” cheaper.

Let’s break it down
So, this is where my consultant and researcher hat came into play. I was playing the contrasting Cain and Abel story over the weekend in my head over and over to try and figure out and analyse their differences. How come both are similarly branded, i.e. from the same parent, but one is day and one is night? Taking the personality of the sales persons aside, the following are pure hypotheses and should be taken with a grain of salt. So if you like the story so far and don’t like to figure out how the universe works, then read no further.
Some hints:

  1. Loyalty – “Cain’s” car salesman hinted that team “Abel” had been a team for a long time. This was confirmed when I saw Malcolm’s award plaque showing he won best service even back in 2003. This is a good indicator that the team works well together and likes working together. Low staff turnover is a good sign.
  2. Running the ship: A Cruise vs. Old Yacht – Even though “Cain’s” ship is more flashy and commercial looking and bigger. There wasn’t anything personal about it. It wasn’t family friendly at all. Perhaps this would work when selling a Ferrari, but looking and feeling all corporate-y when I have a whole family in tow with no offer for drinks is not fun. “Abel” on the other hand. Might look older, smaller, has an old couch and TV. Very family oriented. Even the culture of the team is a stark difference. The whole team was smiling and greeting in camp “Abel”. It felt like a true team and not just a few people that happened to be working together in the same building.

So my general observation is that camp “Abel” had a healthy organisational make up. Everyone seemed to be driven with one culture, with loyalty and clarity of their roles and direction. Camp “Cain” seemed to be less so from my brief exposure to them, certainly they did not have a happy customer in this instant. I would also further guess that they did not have happy employees, based on the car ride conversations at camp “Cain”.

I would like to stress again: These are mere observations from one customer’s experience. It does not represent a professional consult, an empirical research or any form of type casting. It is only a ranting blog of an over-analysing nut (a.k.a. The Customer).