A Geely dealership in Shanghai, China

Since getting down to revitalising Proton’s business and aiming to recapture what he believes is its rightful place in the Malaysian automobile market, Dr. Li Chunrong, Proton’s CEO, has frequently stressed that a good customer experience will help greatly in the objective.

This experience is not only from driving Proton’s vehicles but also the entire ownership experience from the time someone walks into a dealership to becoming an owner and then being given the aftersales support for the many years to follow.

Cramped showrooms like this no longer appeal to customers so dealers must invest in upgrading their outlets.

Dr. Li would understand that diminished customer loyalty to the brand had come about due to not just quality issues but also unhappy owner experiences. With a plan to introduce a new line of better products in the next few years, starting with the company’s first SUV, he wants to ensure that when people come to the outlets, they will be given the best customer service which will make them want to become Proton owners.

Preparing the network for this new era has been one of the top priorities and Proton is even prepared to offer incentives to those who are willing to upgrade their facilities. No longer is the one-shoplot outlet good enough, especially when competitors have mostly 3S (sales, service and sale of spare parts) outlets.

First impressions count, as the saying goes, and an appealing and inviting showroom would draw people more than just a small cramped shoplot with probably just one parking space in front.

The Proton dealers who have been representing the brand for a long time understand this and were it not for the decline in sales and uncertainty of the future of the business, they would probably have made additional investments. Experienced businessmen know that to grow their business, they also need to use some of their profits for expanding the business. They don’t just take all the profits to buy expensive cars and mansions and leave the business facilities stagnant.

Understanding their reluctance, Geely has shown how it can help with its technology and experience (even though it is a younger carmaker than Proton) to provide better products.

This has helped boost confidence among the dealers with regard to the ‘hardware’ side but on the ‘software’ side – the human side that interacts with customers, it appears that the dealers still need to be shown how to do it better. Ironically, Malaysian culture has long been noted for hospitality but maybe when it comes to selling cars, it’s a different matter…

A batch of Proton dealers who visited Geely’s retail outlets in China.

To give the dealers ideas about how to enhance their business, Proton has been sending dealers to see Geely’s retail operations in China. For example, in early March, a group of 33 dealers visited one of Geely’s dealer outlets in Shanghai with the aim of getting them to replicate something similar in Malaysia.

Unlike in Malaysia, where Proton has enjoyed a protected status for its business for decades, Geely has not received government favour even when it started. And in China, the automotive market is very competitive so dealers have to work very hard to survive. As such, every sale matters and even if a product is a hotseller, they cannot afford to become arrogant because a competitor will come out with a better product before long. So they have to keep providing the best services they can in order to retain customers and get more new ones.

So the facilities are all designed to be inviting and to make every visitor feel at home whenever they drop by to see a new model or to service their cars. It’s actually not much different from what Proton’s competitors have been doing for many years. Since the late 1980s, the industry began to upgrade its retail outlets with air-conditioned showrooms and pleasant customer lounges at service centres which offer refreshments and even other amenities to pass the time while waiting.

Inside a Geely dealership in China

The Geely outlets in China are the same, with spacious premises and different areas for different purposes. There are also coffee areas, discussion areas and play areas for children – in short, ‘a home away from home’ for owners who may travel some distance to service their cars.

“People are always busy and the idea to send in a car for service for a few hours seem like a whole day. With built-in areas such as the discussion area, this could also serve as a meeting point where two or more people can come and have a small discussion. Moreover, the existence of a coffee area means that you do not have to run to the nearest Starbucks or Coffee Bean just to get your morning or afternoon coffee fix to get your day going,” observed Aw Chiew Soon from Warna Bestari, a Proton dealership in Ipoh, Perak.

As for showroom displays, Razali Ahmad of Erakars Sdn Bhd (a dealer in Selangor) observed that the showrooms are like what they already have. “The difference is that there is a spacious waiting area and the comfortable rest area looks like your home living room! The additional facilities become the ‘pull factor’ in attracting customers to come service their cars. At least patrons can occupy their time in the most productive ways, so overall it is a plus factor,” he said.

Azizulmu’min Mohd Hussein Malim of Rohamas Corporation in Pahang also noted that the staff at the Geely dealership had uniforms. “The guys and girls all look so smart. This is also good for business. Customers who come in could feel the ‘oneness’ in their approach. For us, it is all about attracting customers to showroom,” Azizulmu’min explained. “Furthermore, when sales and service staff are consistent in terms of uniform or approach, it confers a lot of confidence amongst the customers, hence selling a product becomes easier, aside from good product knowledge.”

Click here for other news and articles on Proton.

Find a Proton dealership in Malaysia at www.proton.com.my.

[Chips Yap]

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