A set of car keysA set of car keys

Columns News

Key Notes: Handle with respect

Time 12:42 pm, October 1, 2015

Paul Smith

Paul Smith

You need to inspire confidence – not concern – in your customers, says Paul Smith, who heads Traka Automotive, part of the ASSA Abloy Group brand Traka.

Managing car keys seems like a simple enough thing to do. But some of the larger and more successful dealerships today are selling more than 100 new cars and simultaneously handling up to 100 part-exchange or used car sales as customers trade up to new wheels
each week.

These are very busy places, sometimes with two to three linked (but separately located) showrooms and additional car pounds for stock that cannot be accommodated in cramped showroom car parks.

One company we spoke to recently needed 1,000 slots for keys to ensure that 
it didn’t run out during plate-change months, which see 30 per cent surges in car numbers on site.

When you rise to vehicle numbers this large, with each set of keys potentially being handled by up to 50 staff within the sales, PDI and valet teams, the need for a foolproof electronic key-management system becomes self-evident.

As Callum Rankin, dealer principal at BMW Harry Fairbairn, which is part of the Arnold Clark Group, indicates, the alternative hits the bottom line as well as CSI numbers. ‘Our previous key-management system had a knock-on effect of lost sales. So if a customer came to the dealership to test-drive a specific used car that they had researched on your website, if they could not access it in 20 minutes and they’ve set aside that lunch hour to test-drive it, they may not come back. That sale could be lost. Our CSI score can be negatively impacted, which can have a negative impact on sales momentum and agent morale.’

The other issue is perception alignment. Many modern franchise dealerships today look very slick. New showrooms look like shiny glass palaces, with dazzling lights, sparkling tiled floors, polished cars and sharp-suited sales agents. Customers arriving at these retail palaces adjust their expectations upwards in line with the amount of money they are about to spend and the luxury retail experience they are walking into.

They expect everything that happens in that dealership – every interaction they have with staff, the sales brochure that they pick up or the car that they sit in – to be very much in line with that expectation.

If just one element of that customer experience falls short, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

All too often, that sore thumb today is handling and finding car keys. And the evidence is that customers are generally becoming less tolerant of waiting more than a few minutes to test-drive a car or pick up their vehicle following a service. They simply do not budget much time to do these things. If they are kept waiting in the dealership, the customer is quicker to give that dealership a black mark than they used to be. The result is sliding CSI scores and potentially declining sales.

In aftersales, we think it is important to think as many people do when handing something valuable over for someone else’s safekeeping; whether it be your three-year-old child being dropped off at a new nursery for 
the morning or handing over the keys to your £40,000 Range Rover.

Stand for a minute to watch the concern in the customer’s eyes as their keys are handed over only to be attached to a dirty, pre-used manila paper tag. Perhaps the key-handler is crossing out the previous car registration and scribbling the new customer’s registration in its place before handing the keys to a technician who has oil all over his hands, or placing it on an unsecured keyboard close to the open rear door of the workshop.

Compare that experience with seeing the key looped on to a metal electronic key fob while receiving a brief explanation of how the car key will now be electronically tagged, stored in biometrically-secured key cabinets and tracked between handlers at every stage.

The latter experience is likely to impress and certainly reassure the customer parting with something they value very highly. The former leaves them wondering what kind of place they have entrusted their car to. Is it time to think again about how you treat your customers’ keys?

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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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