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IF YOU think the OEM-led push to the agency model of selling cars is working then a recent survey in the UK shows that even customers are losing interest.

UK digital management company Regit’s survey shows consumers still prefer traditional dealer interactions, with two-thirds wanting the option to haggle. 

Regit CEO and founder Chris Ashton-Green, writing in the latest Cox Automotive “Insight Quarterly”, said the modern car buyer prioritises excellent customer service over getting a good price on a vehicle.

It shows that the issue of good customer service far outweighs hot industry topics, including the rights and wrongs of the agency model and serves as a reminder that the customer is “still king”.

“In our latest consumer survey, we asked our 2000 car drivers how they see car buying in 2024 and the overarching message is clear: Put quality customer service first,” Mr Ashton-Green said.

Cox Automotive’s insight and strategy director, UK-based Philip Nothard adds: “This new survey reveals some reassuring opinions for dealers. 

“Traditional customer care values remain crucial in the automotive industry. Almost 70 per cent of buyers would pay more for a car with excellent customer service. 

“The data shows car buyers want to engage with dealers in the traditional sense – two-thirds want the option to haggle with their dealer to try and force a better price, and 67 per cent want to give their data and business to the dealer instead of the manufacturer.

“In what will be a surprising stat to some, almost 7 in 10 (68 per cent) said they would rather spend more on a car as long as it came with excellent customer service, as opposed to getting a great deal on a vehicle that was accompanied by a poor customer experience.”

Mr Nothard said maintaining high customer service standards is essential for customer retention and dealer success as the industry evolves. 

“With the emergence of electric vehicles and changing consumer preferences, the industry is shifting towards a more customer-centric approach, making customer service even more vital.” 

Mr Ashton-Green said the survey findings indicate consumers’ preference to engage with dealers in the traditional sense, although that doesn’t necessarily mean “face-to-face”. 

“The drive to give more online options to car buyers who want to reduce physical customer touchpoints should still be prioritised,” he said.

Philip Nothard

“After all, 46 per cent of our users believe it’s important that everything, from finding a car to arranging delivery, should be done online, from the comfort of your own home.”

Mr Nothard thinks Regit’s findings should be no surprise to dealers in the sector, especially those who set their stall by putting the customer first.

“As Chris says, the average customer will have little knowledge or interest in the agency model debate,” Mr Nothard said.

“They simply want to be sure that the business they’re buying from will look after them once they take ownership of a car. 

“We’ve said how the sector is changing, but the importance of customer service remains the touchstone of a successful dealer.”

Regit’s survey also highlights an information gap regarding consumers going electric. Four in 10 of those asked said they don’t know enough about EVs to make a purchase.

“That knowledge gap could be partially closed by better online platforms that give the car buyer the information they want, such as battery health,” Mr Ashton-Green said.

Chris Ashton-Green

“But ultimately, we’re some time away from the masses wanting to make every action related to buying a non-ICE car an online one.

“The value of customer retention is higher than ever, and brands and dealers that live by the traditional values of excellent customer care will have the best chance of securing it. 

“How customer care is delivered will be a debate that rumbles throughout 2024, so it will be hugely important to get it right.”

Regit has more than 2.5 million users and provides digital car management services to drivers, including reminders about servicing, MOT, insurance and tax.

By Neil Dowling

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