Friday, May 2, 2014

A Tale about Tire Sales

I bought a new car last summer. The car came with nice 235/40R18 Goodyear Eagle F1 asymmetrical summer performance tires, which are great for tearing up country back roads in 90 degree summer heat. However, when the weather turns cold, these fantastic tires have the grip of hockey pucks. As the temperature dropped last fall, I decided to buy a separate set of wheels and winter tires.

I had seen a lot of advertisements for tires through the OEM dealer, including banner ads online and TV advertising, so I figured I’d give them a shot. Here’s what happened when I called them up:

Problem 1: I kept getting pushed back and forth between parts and service. I started in service, but since I wanted wheels to go with the tires, they pushed me over to Parts. When I explained to the parts guy what I wanted, he was able to quote me a price on the four wheels I would need. Then I got pushed back to service for a quote on the tires and mounting.

Problem 2: The dealer actually didn’t have tires that met my needs. In fact, the dealer was unable to locate a wheel and winter tire package for the vehicle through the OEM, and also unable to put together a custom package.

Problem 3: The dealer explicitly told me to go to the independent aftermarket to meet my needs.

So, following the parts counterman’s advice, I called up Discount Tire.

Differentiator 1: I was greeted in a polite and friendly manner by the clerk, who asked me what he could do to help. (How many dealerships’ parts departments answer the phone with “Parts, hold please”?)

Differentiator 2: The clerk was able to look up wheel and tire packages that fit my vehicle, and offered a number of options for both the wheel and tire.

Differentiator 3: The clerk was able to quote an out-the-door price, once I told him what I wanted. He let me know that the tires were in stock at a facing warehouse and would be arriving in three days.

So what are some of the things that the dealer and OEM should do to replicate the aftermarket tire experience?
  1. Availability. In this case, either the tire package didn’t exist, or the dealer did not know how to find and order it. When I went on the OEM website, I found that they did not offer a winter tire for this car, despite the fact that it came from the factory with summer-only performance tires. In contrast, Discount Tire was able to provide pricing and lead-time for several different options.
  2. Single point of contact who can handle the entire order. The service advisor should be able to look up parts prices or package prices and provide a quote to the customer. Bouncing between parts and service does not make for a good customer experience.
  3. Phone handling skills. Greeting the customer, asking what you can do to help and introducing yourself by name makes the customer feel valued.
Bottom line: OEMs have expended a lot of effort to pursue tire sales, but the system still doesn’t match the experience provided at the specialized aftermarket alternatives. If OEM dealers are serious about selling tires, they need to offer availability and customer service that can beat tire stores at their own game.

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