Mercedes-Benz dealers clearly beat those representing Audi, BMW, Porsche and Lexus. That is the result of a study carried out in Germany by management consulting firm MSU Consulting for Automotive News Europe sister publication Automobilwoche.
MSU Consulting of Bad Homburg, Germany, sent 14 undercover customers around Germany from April through June to scrutinize 54 luxury-brand dealerships.
The study singled out Mercedes' sales center near Munich's central train station as being a model for other dealerships.
The dealership's sales department is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m; the service department operates from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.
Most dealerships in Germany close at 6 p.m. and their service departments shut their doors at 5 p.m.
The center's manager, Ulrich Kowaleski, constantly motivates his 519 sales and service staff to go on the offensive, based loosely on the motto, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
While Mercedes sales people had strong interpersonal skills, Porsche's reception and sales employees need to greatly improve how they deal with customers, according to the study. In some cases, the customer wasn't even offered a seat.
One of the researchers criticized the Porsche staff at one dealership for "evidently not categorizing every customer as worthy of a consultation."
But customers deemed worthy of the effort usually received a "highly emotional" and extremely informative presentation from sales people intent on closing a deal.
The shoppers said 40 percent of the dealers they visited do not do enough to present cars in a way that will encourage potential buyers.
Like high-volume manufacturers, luxury brands are saving costs on publicity material, said the study. The test shoppers usually had to ask for brochures.
Only two-thirds of the sales people collected customer information. And in 85 percent of the cases, there was no follow-up. In one out of five dealership visits, there was no conversation with the customer.
Researchers visited five Volkswagen dealerships to see how the brand's premium model, the Phaeton, is presented to potential buyers.
The result: The researchers felt that the displays and the level of professional competence of the sales people didn't meet the premium image that VW is after. In the VW showrooms visited, the Phaeton was usually parked behind Golf and Polo models.
The test shoppers evaluated dealerships' customer-service quality, overall appearance and the performance of the sales staff.
MSU's conclusion was that the quality of selling and customer service in new-vehicle sales is only slightly higher for luxury brands than for the volume manufacturers.
On May 23, Automobilwoche published results of a similar MSU study of volume brands including Peugeot, Renault, Ford, Opel and the Volkswagen group. VW and Peugeot dealerships were praised while Opel and Renault were criticized.