Being an “Internet Girl”, as I tend to refer to myself these days, has totally changed my expectations in real life. I expect stores and products to impress me. I expect them to work a little harder for my business, because it’s just as easy to cut them out of the transaction and buy the item online. Likewise, online retailers need to make it easy for me to shop and figure out what the specs on a product are, because if something similar is available down the street, I’ll go for instant gratification instead of waiting and paying shipping. I am a fickle, multi-platform consumer with disposable income, but if you want me to spend my time, money and attention on you, you can’t be so-so anymore.

I spent a good portion of today, driving from car dealership to car dealership, looking at potential replacements for my mini-van. We looked upscale and downscale. Some products speak for themselves- the brand story works, and the dealership experience matches or even surpasses the brand impression. Other dealerships seem to care less. And I will preface this that I was shopping for cars with my eldest child along only- no spouse. Since I will be the one driving the car and dealing with service, this meant I was getting the impression of how they would treat me, not my spouse or anyone else.

I was totally shocked when in the Honda dealership, loaded with salespeople and women salespeople at that, I waited for a salesperson who never showed themselves, looked at the cars in the showroom, and left, feeling that my business wasn’t worth their time or effort. No matter how much I like the car, if that’s the way they treat me now as a potential customer, there’s no way I am buying a car from them. They haven’t done anything to earn my business, and since the product is essentially interchangeable with others in the market, that one is now off the list. Bye-bye, Union Honda of Delaware!

Compare that experience to the one at the Lexus dealership. I walked in, was greeted promptly, went and looked at several models I was interested in, got the literature I wanted, got all my questions answered. I found out they drive a loaner to your home, drop it off, and pick up the car in need of service. If you have to wait at the dealership, they offer you a 10% discount for having to wait.

The BMW/Mini dealership offers cappuccinos, tea and other refreshments, along with computers and phones in office-like set-ups for customers who need to wait; they have free loaners and a really quick drop-off process for service that’s been handy for Matt’s Mini Cooper.

The local Toyota dealership has a play area for kids, free popcorn, coffee and donuts, computers and phones, and is likewise pleasant and efficient in all aspects of service. The salespeople are equally pleasant and not pushy or sleazy.

I even went by the local Mercedes dealership. This was like walking into a fine jewelry store or country club. Chippendale chairs in the office areas. Waiting area that looked like the first class lounge in an airport or the lounge area at a country club. The salespeople were solicitous, polite, engaged, helpful, and genuine. They looked up the trade in value of my car online and showed me what it would be right then and there. They were professional and did not make me feel odd because I was there without my husband, or driving a beat minivan.

I came away from this experience feeling like customer service makes most, if not all of the difference these days.  I go to my local coffee shop more often than Starbucks because I like the employees there better; I’ll buy a car from a dealership that treats me well up front and offers good service on the back end as well (which is also why I won’t buy another Suburu anytime soon.) If I’m going to buy something locally rather than on the net, I want the experience to be personal.  Face to Face- create a relationship to keep me coming back, and make me eager to recommend my friends.

And if you don’t, I’m afraid the competition is going to eat you for lunch.  Maybe not today, but soon, and forever.