The One Thing Worse Than Buying a Car

Quick. What’s the single most painful purchase process? Gotta be buying car, right? Nope, but you’re on the right track.

The One Thing Worse Than Buying a Car


Now, buying a car is tremendously painful, I’ll give you that. It’s a big decision and a huge financial commitment. It seems impossible to have a simple transaction without the “I have to talk to the manager” games and even when you have the car negotiated out, the finance person will make your life miserable using techniques banned by the Geneva Convention until you agree to extended warranties, service plans, and maybe a life insurance policy or two. At the end you’re so mentally frazzled, worn down, and desperate for escape that you’ll agree to anything if it means you can go home. It’s hard to imagine any other purchase being so antiquated, cumbersome, and antagonistic. It’s almost as though the entire process was designed from the start to be as difficult as possible – sort of the opposite of’s one-click purchase.

Except, it’s easy to imagine how to make it worse by modeling another process involving a major life decision. Let’s have a bit of fun here.

What if the process was like this:

  1. You want to buy a car so you do a bit of looking on the internet or in the newspaper until you find one that sounds promising. Or, maybe you’re not really looking for a new car but the dealer calls you with an interesting new model. Either way, the process is essentially the same (which is really baffling when they call you).
  2. No price is listed so you just have to make an educated guess based on the description to figure out if it is in the ballpark. You’ll find out the price much later in the process but it’s considered naive or pushy if you ask before the right time.
  3. You complete a very lengthy finance application that involves quite a bit of personal information that could be used for identity theft (e.g., Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Address) and send it off to someone you don’t know. Remember: at this point you don’t even know if you want the car and you know very little about the company you are handing your information over to. Plus, you’ll need to do this for every car you want to consider.
  4. Now, you wait. You may or may not be informed whether your application was received, when it will be reviewed, whether or not it was approved, next steps, etc. You just wait.
  5. If you call the dealer and ask about your application you’ll likely be met with range of reactions running from indifference to lightly veiled hostility. This entire process was designed for the dealer’s convenience, not yours, and at no point will it be apparent that the dealer actually wants to do business with you. DO NOT QUESTION THE PROCESS.
  6. Should you be deemed worthy of purchasing the car, NOW you get a chance to find out more about it to see if you’re even interested. You’ll have several conversations with the dealer and only once it’s clear that the car may be the one for you will you discuss price and available options.
  7. When you arrive to pick the car up, having made a large life decision affecting you financial well-being, you may or may not be welcomed warmly (or even welcomed at all). The manager you have been dealing with may or may not be there. Other staff may or may not have been told you were coming. The car may or may not be ready – in some cases you’ll need to clean out the previous owner’s stuff yourself.

Yeah, that would make it worse. Imagine if your business’ success was dependent on finding customers willing to subject themselves to that process! But, you’re safe because no one would every design a purchase process that bassackwards terrible because no customer would stand for it.

No, to voluntarily subject themselves to a process that bad a person would have to be looking for a job. The process I just described was an all-too-typical typical job search process and it makes even buying a car seem carefree and painless. For all the talk about the “candidate experience” and all the whining of not being able to find good talent, why can’t we design a process that’s even equal to the low bar set by the customer experience of buying a car?

In customer service, a miserable experience only works when every place has the same poor experience. As soon as one company gets it figured out they gain a huge advantage while others wonder why what used to work no longer does.

People desperate for a job will endure the hiring process and smile while doing it. People with options won’t. What are the pain point, the friction spots, the areas where candidates are left wanting in your hiring process? How is your hiring process getting in the way of hiring great people?

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