The world is changing – and so should you
There is an often-quoted story about the fly being stuck on the billboard – so close to the poster that it can’t see the whole picture. We are in the middle of a revolution, actually a series of revolutions, and you don’t have to open your eyes too wide to see the changes that are happening.

We are in the middle of gigantic change in the automotive sector and similarly in the retail world and unless we adapt to these changes we run the risk of becoming irrelevant to our customers. We need to get away from that billboard and look at the evidence:

The change from fossil fuels to other energy forms including hybrid/electric and the nosedive of diesel
The move towards mobility solutions rather than car ownership. Uber has broken that mould and there are examples of car rental companies happy to provide your mobility for a fixed fee
Customer research and initial shopping is done online
Automated intelligence and big data will present cars to you online just before you think about it
The retail world is changing and if you are not relevant then you die – just ask Maplins
Actually on that point ask Toys ‘R’ Us! Customers could get a better deal on Amazon and where was the attraction of driving to a large warehouse to look at boxes and queue at the checkout.“Wait!” I hear you cry, “cars are a very physical item and customers want to touch, feel and check that the car drives well and confirm their choice before they commit – cars are large ticket items”.

The retail world is adapting to ‘clicks and bricks’ solutions and providing an awesome customer experience is just the entry point for retailers that will survive. As customers, we will value businesses that can answer our enquiries online quickly, correctly and with enthusiasm. Once we visit a retailer, we will value transparency, knowledge and a seamless journey from online to onsite – how hard can it be to marry up my internet browsing and enquiry with what I have come to see and above all make it a pleasant experience not an adversarial battle with a salesman?

The key to all this is human interaction – if we can get it all online without human interaction then we will – but cars are still a very physical purchase. The key differentiator in creating an experience is the quality of your people. The selection and recruitment of bright, interactive, emotionally intelligent customer-facing teams, supported by their awesome knowledge and daily training in how to really look after customers will deliver that transition. Look at Apple as a retailer (everyone else does); it is no accident that their store experience and staff are awesome – they select, train and develop them that way.

We are, of course, seeing very creative innovation from many retailers but the need to create a new generation of customer-facing staff is not keeping pace; still we are paying low salaries with high commission for a job which has long hours and includes weekends and wondering why it is hard to compete in the talent pool.

Mary Portas, doyen of high street retailing, says: “Brands are using shops to immerse us in their worlds. Within four walls they teach us, inspire us and encourage us to try new things. We go to them not just to ‘shop’ but for education, entertainment and connection.” A large part of the experience is delivered by a human interaction, and there is a great opportunity to drive change to meet the needs of our automotive revolution.

Change 1: Why are we still wearing ties?
My accountant, my solicitor and the bank manager are the only people I can think of who habitually wear a tie. What part of a 21st century retail experience does a guy in a tie deliver? It says professional yes, but also plays to every stereotype of the traditional car salesman.

Change 2: Gender balance in your salesforce
I have used ‘salesman’ here on purpose, where are the women? At least 50% of our customers are women, so why can’t we match that in our staff? The best retailers have worked this out and are creating flexible working hours and attracting a balanced workforce.

Change 3: Make the journey between online and onsite one seamless experience.
Say “Yes Mr Miller, I can see you were asking about the hybrid SUV – I have your details here”. Not “How can I help you today”? And as for emailing me – at least make them legible.

Change 4: Know your stuff
Know more than the customer about the product – train, read, challenge, learn, test until it is drilled into your team.

Change 5: Create an amazing experience
Make every visit the most enjoyable and productive experience you can afford to create – look after the kids, give the business customers a lounge, let people play and explore with the products, smile a lot and give me a small gift simply for coming. There’s a start!

In a revolution the challenge is being wise enough to know things are changing but brave enough to make your own changes. These trends are not going away – doing things the way we have always done them is not a valid reason to ignore change.

You might also like to read some of our customer success stories in our case studies section here »


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