Edit:

Since writing this article, I was contacted by my BMW dealership to apologise for the experience I’d received. As an apology, I was offered a free service with pick up and drop off – as suggested in the original article.

I was impressed that BMW were listening and took the steps to rectify the situation. With that one ‘act of kindness’ BMW mended a lot of the damage.

It’s probably worth noting that it was BMW head office that instructed the dealer to contact me. The person I spoke to at the dealership did a great job at making me feel better – so perhaps car dealerships still do have a place – especially if they are aligned to head office and working hard to deliver an experience that BMW customers (especially this one) covets.


 

Dealers looking out on the horizon may see a road of uncertainty ahead for the franchise system. But the challenges ranging from ‘mobility-as-a-service’ to car sharing could be closer than we think. So what are dealerships doing to tackle these issues and put customers back in the driving seat?

Here’s a summary of a recent visit to my local BMW dealership to get my car serviced:

The booking

Me: My car is telling me it needs a service.  Can I book it in please?

BMW dealer:  Yes – how about Tuesday next week?

Me: I work during the week can I drop it off the weekend?

BMW dealer: Sorry sir – we only do services during the week.

Me: Tuesday it is then.

BMW dealer: Great, 8am OK

Me: Yes, can I have a car for the day to use

BMW dealer: Yes of course

 

The drop off:

Me: (fighting through a crowd of other people desperate to get out of there and start their commute to work) I’m here to drop off my car for a service

BMW dealer:  We’re quite busy this morning, take a seat and we’ll be with you soon

Me: Hello, I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes and need to get to work can I just leave my keys and pick up my courtesy car?

BMW dealer: We’ll be with you very soon

Me: Hello, I’ve been waiting 45 minutes and need to get to a meeting…

BMW dealer: Yes sir – we’ll just be a second

BMW dealer: (20 minutes later): Hello, can I help?

Me: (whilst on the phone to work cancelling next meeting) Yes – I’m here to drop my car for a service

BMW: Great, let me take some details

(10 minutes of pointless data entry. Pointless because apparently my key contains all the data they need – but the scanner on this guy’s desk didn’t work)

BMW dealer: Thank you we’ll give you a call when the car is ready

Me: Can I have the key to my courtesy car?

BMW dealer: We haven’t got any cars left

Me: But I asked for one when I called

BMW dealer: Let me see what I can do

(10 minutes later)

BMW dealer: Good news we’ve got a Vauxhall for you

Me: (under my breath) But aren’t you’re a BMW dealer?

Me: (now audible) Great.

BMW dealer: Here’s the key…Oh before you go I strongly recommend you buy the excess on the insurance for the courtesy car?

Me: Why?

BMW dealer: Well, if anything happens – even the slightest scratch, a flat tyre or anything like that – we’ll have to charge you.

Me: That means you’re giving me a hire car, not a courtesy car

BMW dealer: Yes sir.  It’s £17.99

Checking if it’s ready

(I call the dealer – annoying hold music for 5 minutes)

Me: Hi, can you tell me if my car is ready for pick up?

BMW dealer: Let me check

(on hold for at least another 5 minutes)

BMW dealer: Yes sir, it was finished about an hour ago

Me: Why didn’t you call me?

BMW dealer: Not sure sir.  You should have got a text…I think.  Anyway, not to worry its ready now.

The pick up

Me: (with about 15 other people rushing to get to the dealership after work and before it closes) I’m here to pick up my car

BMW dealer: Ok, please take a seat

Me: (pretending not to be annoyed – I’m very British) Will it be long?

BMW dealer: We close in 10 minutes – so I hope not

…Car given back to me 15 minutes later.  I settle my (large) bill. Dealer checks my hire car far more carefully than he should. I drive home – annoyed that I still like my BMW – but pondering whether I’ll ever buy another one.

 

In my opinion there are so many things that the dealer could have done to make my experience better…

…a pick up and drop off service perhaps?

…more convenient service opening times?

…a courtesy car that showcases other BMW vehicles?

For years car manufacturers have been trying to get dealers to deliver an experience that matches their brand.  And, it seems (admittedly an opinion formed from my own experience only), they are still nowhere nearer to getting it right.

So surely, in the age of a ‘Connected Drive’, driverless cars, new mobile technologies and the increasing threat of innovative new entrants, the need for a franchised dealer network has become obsolete.

Surely BMW can see the opportunity and could get access to all the tools they need to deliver the experience I was expecting when I bought my shiny new car.

A recent survey of a car buying journey highlighted 900 different digital interactions a customer took before deciding which car to buy.  These interactions aren’t with the dealers – they are manufacturer websites, videos, social media, Google, YouTube, aggregators and review websites.

Even the simplest mar-tech could help BMW orchestrate the customer journey using this data and would enable BMW to influence the process way beyond what a dealer can.

When it came to calling BMW to buy a new car, they would already have all the information they needed to offer a completely frictionless buying experience (and without having to interact with any slimy sales guy desperate to hit his monthly target).

Even if they did continue to rely on the dealer for the actual sale – they could already be offering me a better owner experience.

They know when my car is due for a service – why didn’t they call me to say they’ll have someone come over (ideally at the weekend) to pick it up and drop it off?

They also know that my car is nearing 5 years old.  Wouldn’t it be great if the car I dropped off was a brand new model of the next car I could be in the market to buy?

There are so many things BMW could be doing if they weren’t constrained by the dealerships…

  • They could put a stop to sending me texts and DM’s about ‘exclusive’ dealer sales events that I have no interest in
  • They could use the data they have to upsell me things that I might actually find useful
  • And, they’d even be able to see that I’ve had a moan on social media about the service I had recently – and proactively do something about it.

As far as I can tell BMW (or any other established manufacturer) can’t truly deliver a joined-up customer experience (to reflect the £millions they have spent on developing their brand) whilst they are at the mercy of their sales-hungry dealer networks.

The automotive industry is changing rapidly. New entrants like Tesla are challenging convention. In ten years it’s estimated that 40% of all car sales will be bought by millennials – a generation that don’t remember a world without the convenience of Amazon Prime and Uber. Surely it can only be a matter of time before the manufacturers wrestle for greater control and deliver a service we deserve.

-Matt Broekhuizen, Managing Director