Thoughts on startup marketing, software, and technology

Your Great Product Fails to Sell Because your Customer Experience Stinks

Published May 29, 2014 - 0 Comments

Yesterday I did something that most people find dreadful. I try to do it only once every few years, at most.

My wife and I went shopping for a new car.


We narrowed our choices down to a Toyota Highlander and a Honda Pilot. The first stop was at the Toyota dealership.

There we were met with five salesmen, all standing in front of the entrance. It felt like they were waiting to pounce on us like wild animals. Jason walked us inside and asked what we were interested in. I explained that we were going to buy a car and it was going to be either the Toyota or the Honda.

We explained that we wanted to see the vehicle, drive it, and get an offer — and then would be going over to the Honda dealership to do the same.

Jason made it clear that his goal was to keep me from ever leaving to look at the Honda. I guess this is what they teach salespeople to do.

To make sure he heard me, I explained he could offer me the best deal he had ever given anyone ever in his career…we were still going to look at the Honda and compare.

Let’s dig deeper into my customer experience here. I think there are some interesting lessons to draw from.

Focus on Your Customer and Listen to What They Want

Jason was wearing an earpiece and was apparently being coached by his sales manager from the back room. At one point he even slammed it down complaining that the “radio commercial” was too loud.

His focus should have been on his customers and not getting coached in sales tactics. I made it pretty clear that we wanted a no fuss experience; we just wanted to see the car, learn about it, and find out his best offer on a price with our trade-in.

It Takes Months to Find a Customer...seconds to lose one.

Photo courtesy of jm3

Treat Your Customers Fairly and Respect Their Time

Getting a quote took longer than it should have. Despite nobody else in the entire dealership shopping for a car, it took several minutes. It seemed as if they were hoping to delay us enough to not have time to make it to the other dealership before closing.

Sell the Customer What They Want, Not What you Want to Sell Them

They only had one Toyota Highlander in stock. He explained it was a popular SUV and they had trouble keeping them in. The problem was that the one they had in stock came with a ton of extras we did not need and was several thousand more than we wished to spend. I told Jason I would like to get a price on one of the lesser models.

“Sure no problem. I cannot promise when we would get it, though. It could be a week or it could be three weeks. I will say three weeks as I like to under promise and over deliver.”

Waiting three weeks to save several thousands of dollars is not an issue for us and we made that clear. Well then Jason goes back for another quote sheet.

He comes back and says, “I am sorry. My boss said we cannot order you any of the other models. He said that whatever we get from Toyota is all we have to sell. We are not sure what models will come in, when or how many.”

Maybe that is true, but it sure smelled like fish. Clearly they were only willing to deal on the one car they had in stock.

Your Customers are Not Stupid, So Don’t Treat Them That Way

So we continued trying to work out a deal on seemingly the only Highlander available in the world. I knew we were getting railroaded, but I was willing to play along a little longer. In the quote I saw that the “amazing feature that nobody else has” was not free, but cost an extra $2,000 on top of the hefty $40,000 price of the car.

“I won’t pay that fee…and I need $2,000 more for my trade-in,” I told the salesman.

Then Jason gave me the oldest line in the book. “I don’t know if I can do that. But if I do, will I earn your business? Just tell me yes and I will go to bat for you with my sales manager!”

Jason still was not listening to his customer. I had already made it extremely clear we were going to Honda to look at the Honda Pilot. I never even was able to get his best offer before we had to leave to get to the Honda dealership before closing.

Instead of giving us what I asked for, Jason tried a variety of sales tricks on us.

Maybe this stuff works on people buying their first cars, I don’t know.

On the way out the door I heard another salesperson say to Jason (loudly), “Hey Jason, that other couple called and they were asking if the Highlander is still available.”

Nice! One last sales trick as we were walking out the door… Clearly they thought we had just fallen off the turnip truck.

What a terrible customer experience. I felt like I needed to take a long hot shower after leaving that place.

Heading in the Honda dealership the customer experience could not be more different.

Customers are not targets

Photo courtesy of 10ch

Treat Customers Like People and Not Targets

Walking through the entrance there were no salespeople waiting to pounce. Just doors with a nice view of cars inside. I loved that.

In fact we walked around a little bit inside, then looked at cars outside, and it took about five minutes before we were approached at all. I am not sure this was intentional, but I liked it. I did not feel like a gazelle being chased by a lion.

Make It Easy to Give Your Customers What They are Asking For

Honda had several Pilots in stock and different models, too. We were shopping for a mid-range Pilot and they had one on the lot. However, it was in blue and we wanted a lighter color. We asked about getting one with a different color.

“Of course, it should be here in a few days.” They looked at their stock catalog on their computer. “Wait…we have a white one coming in and it will be here tomorrow!”

Negotiating With Customers Does Not Need to Be Lengthy or Complicated

I thought, “Ok this is going much better than the Toyota dealership. Now is the tough part. Getting the price quote.”

The price was nothing special, and they were offering me less on the trade than I wanted. I never expect the best offer off the bat. I know these people are not stupid. I explained I would like $2,000 more on the trade and a little bit of a break on the price of the car.

The sales manager was not hiding in a back room speaking through an earpiece.

In fact, he had already introduced himself, shook my hand, and it being Memorial Day we had talked about our shared military backgrounds. He had served 26 years in the Army to my rather tame four years. The salesperson went to talk with him and he came back in less than a minute.

“Instead of making it complicated, I just gave you $3,000 more for your trade-in.”

I had a new quote and breakdown in my hand with the new figure. That sure was easy and felt like a fair enough offer.

I explained to them that we had to discuss it for a minute.

Talking things over with my wife, we both agreed that the Highlander was nicer. The drive was a bit smoother and quieter and had a little more power. The interior was more impressive, it looked nicer on the outside, and the dashboard controls were better.

It was the nicest SUV I have even been in. Not that the Pilot was terrible, but the Highlander just felt more refined all around.

This should have been a slam-dunk for Toyota.

But the customer experience was poor, and when the customer experience is lacking it does not matter if the product is outstanding. At least it did not for us.

We felt like we were being targeted instead of being serviced, never received a fair offer, and were unable to get a quote on the model we wanted.

Instead of listening to the customer, they focused on using sales tricks and tactics.

2014 Honda Pilot

Customer Experience Trumps Product Quality

Which car do you think we purchased?

My wife will be driving home in a new Honda Pilot this evening.

While your product may be the best in its class, your customers better be getting the best customer experience in class as well. Otherwise that great product will lose out to a worthy, but still inferior competitor.

Cover photo by Till Krech