I don’t like to spend money on cars, but with $4 per gallon of gas and my 12 year old Jeep acting up I decided to just move on and buy a smaller, more efficient vehicle.
A friend at work had recently bought a Scion xD, a cool little car loaded with features, a decent engine and great fuel economy. I liked it and decided that it would be my next car.
I started my new car search by emailing four local Scion dealers (let’s call them dealers A, B, C and D) to see if they had the color I wanted (and also to evaluate their responses as a marketing experiment). My email request was simple: I told them that I was looking for a silver, base xD and asked for two things: price and availability.
Following is a summary of the answers I received:
They sent me three consecutive emails, none of which answered my question. Instead, I received these gems:
Hello Mario !
I have good news for you! Give me a call (xxx) xxx-xxxx or reply to this email. Please call me at your convenience. You’ll be glad you did!
We’d like to welcome you to our new Virtual Dealership!
Click the arrow to the right to view your special presentation.
Please feel free to reach me at any time. I look forward to
working with you.
Have a great day!
Hello Mario !
Thank you for your interest in the Toyota (sic) . Below is a brochure containing additional information. Please click below and it should open right up. If you have any trouble, please pick up the phone and call me john doe (not his real name) at (xxx) xxx-xxxx. Also, if you have any questions or concerns do not hesitate to contact me.
Three emails, no answer. Just spam and fluff.
These guys were close, but in the end fell short. Their first email came back quoting me an xD with $389 in options, when I had clearly stated that I wanted a base car. On top of that, they had added a $699 dealer fee.
I politely wrote back saying that I appreciated the response, but that I had requested a car w/o options, and that I would not pay any “dealer fees”.
They wrote back, two days later, with a new quote, this time without the options and the dealer fees. In the two days it took them to get back to me, though, I was already talking to dealer A and we were already far ahead into the process.
If dealer B would have answered my question from the start, or at least wouldn’t have taken two days to send me their second quote, they may have gotten the business. Instead, they blew it.
A sales woman immediately answered my email, giving me a price and letting me know that they had three cars in stock that fit my criteria.
I replied back asking her if that was the net price before tax, tag and title. She wrote back immediately, confirming that yes, it was, and that since this was an Internet transaction they would waive the dealer fee.
I then made an appointment to test drive the car. That day, she had all the paperwork ready and made the process a breeze. She even made arrangements to wash my wife’s car while we waited for my new car to be ready.
Why did dealer A get my business?
- Because they answered my e-mail in the first place.
- Because they answered directly and promptly.
- Because there was a real person on the other side.
- Because they gave me the specific information I was looking for.
- Because they didn’t send me spam.
- Because they didn’t try to bamboozle me into having to call them.
- Because they didn’t try to pull the old bait and switch.
Seth Godin’s latest book has a lengthy section on the value of direct email communication with customers. This is pretty much what he says:
Every organization now has the ability (and probably the responsibility) to deal directly with the world. With customers, with prospects and with those impacted by their actions. No middlemen. This direct connection is an asset or a risk, depending on how you look at it.
Some companies regard email communication as a cost and therefore avoid it. Others consider it an excuse to send spam. Others, however, see it as an opportunity to build a business, as our little example shows.