How not to sell an $18,000 Car

Car Sales, Customer Service
No brands where named in the making of this post

Recently my partner Joan needed to purchase a new vehicle. She’d accepted a new position 60 kms down the road and wouldn’t be able to walk to work any longer. The new role was a dream opportunity, however purchasing the vehicle wasn’t a dream experience. What should have a been a slam dunk sale/purchase, turned into an odyssey that even Homer would have cringed at (OK maybe not so melodramatic).

Being converse with modern technology, having owned vehicles in the past and having a really good idea of what she wanted to drive, Joan did what any self-respecting digital native would do, she started her search online.  Her research included; makes, models, new vs. used, gas mileage estimates, safety reports, financing options and more. Joan is, if nothing else, thorough. Having completed her on line research, the final decision was between a used model vs a new model.  The used vehicle was a brand we both new and liked. It was available in the color and transmission(standard)  that Joan wanted, however, it did not have a warranty and would be slightly more money to carry on a monthly basis. The new vehicle had everything that Joan was looking for, including some bells/whistles that she hadn’t considered, and the warranty; but neither of us had driven the brand before. Thus, the final decision was going to be based upon the driving experience between the two vehicles. A test drive was in order and we set out to do just that.

And this is where our odyssey began, where technology used in the consumer journey, meets the standard and traditional sales organization. As I noted, other than a test drive, the decision was essentially made. In the digital side of our search, we were offered the following items in the “Shopping Tools” menu from the new car brand:

Price a Model – Compare – Calculate a trade-in value – Request a Quote – Book a test drive.  

Well what would you do, yep, we tried to book a test drive. I’m a Star Wars disciple and I realize that “there is no try”. The first attempt was for the new car. Using the on-line tools provided, we sent the request to the local dealer (in our City). A couple of days went by and we did not hear back. So undeterred and not afraid of a phone (after all the system was showing they had the model on the lot), we called. Joan actually spoke with a representative and mentioned that we wanted to book a test drive. The response was “OK, we’ll call you back and do that”. To this day, we’ve yet to hear from them.

With the clock ticking (we had to have the car available within a three week period), we decided to try the nearest dealership in the next city up the road. We called and scheduled a test drive for the coming Saturday. We were in luck, they had the model on the lot. In the interim, we went to the local used car dealer (brand) to see if the car we were interested was available (it was on their website). It was still on the lot. In all honesty we told them what we were considering the other model and why. They were quite happy to put zero pressure, just take our information and put us on the road. As was expected from a known product, the car handled exactly as we expected.  If the new car didn’t handle or perform as was reported, we knew the used car was what we were getting. The decision, but for one critical piece of information that could not be found online, was made.

The lesson here, to enhance the customer experience, tie together your online presence and your brick and mortar reality. I’m sure a part of the disconnect is the dealer/manufacturer relationship, but for the consumer, that’s not our issue. Somewhat frustrated we looked forward to the test drive on Saturday. Oh did I mention, now our 10 year old would be in tow.

Saturday came, we did our chores, packed up the boy and headed out to the dealership, looking forward to a positive experience and likely starting the paperwork on the purchase of a new and second family car.

We arrived at the dealership. The first clue that we were in trouble, the staff on duty did not know anything about the appointment and to boot, the standard vehicle that we wanted to test drive, was not actually on the lot. No, it had not been sold; it was sitting across the street in the local mall on display.  We were given the option of test driving the automatic version and since Spencer had been promised a test drive, we did that. However, the experience left much to be desired and we still didn’t have our answer.

Poor customer service, inbound marketing
Poor customer service is all to frequent.

As someone involved in marketing and an inbound marketing enthusiast, I was dismayed. The system had let us down twice. Somehow, our initial online attempts to book the test drive and our call to the second dealership had not been entered into a customer relationship system and tagged to the vehicle we wanted to purchase, with an appointment scheduled in a calendar for our arrival to do the test drive. Fortunately for the new car brand, we had to go to London (ON) on Monday, and they had two dealerships there. We’d give them a try since we were going to be in the city any way.  While Joan was at her appointment, I called the first dealership closed to where we were. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the standard car we were looking for on the lot, but the other London dealership did. After our appointments for the day and on our way home, we’d stop and get the test drive in.

We’d gone from a very positive online experience in searching for a second family car, to “why won’t anyone sell us a car”?  All along the inbound track, there were plenty of opportunities for the new car brand to enhance and improve the customer experience. They had the opportunities to capture our information, coordinate amongst the six dealerships within a 60 km radius to deliver a vehicle for the test drive. If any of that were the case, you’d be reading the brand name here and this post would have been done when the car was initially purchased, almost a year ago.  I can imagine that the brand and the dealerships have invested heavily in their technology, I know they have in their marketing, yet not in maximizing both with their service and the customer experience.

I’ll finish our journey for you tomorrow.


Gordon Diver

Gordon Diver is father to Spence, partner to Joan, engaged in community and a marketer interested in social business and in delivering exceptional service.


Beth, just being me

what a nightmare! and what an opportunity 🙂


Thanks Beth and you’re right – a great opportunity.

Jeanine Vecchiarelli

Yikes! SOME company needs to coordinate its marketing strategies and follow throughs! This is an ordeal I hope I don’t encounter later this year when we look for a car for our daughter!

Measure what matters!

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