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The star of last week's Future Of Digital Marketing (FODM) conference in London was undoubtedly Ling Valentine. 

She had the audience in stitches several times during the presentation, but there were some valuable lessons from Ling's approach to ecommerce and especially customer experience. 

The Ling's Cars website may look crazy, but there is definitely method behind the madness, as Ling explained in her presentation. 

First of all, in case you haven't seen the Ling's Cars website, here's a screenshot of Ling Vader: 

In her presentation, Ling explained why she opted for such an eccentric website design, and why she has been successful to date. 

In a recent guest post, UX expert Paul Rouke explained why the site is great at persuading visitors to buy, but here are three key points from the presentation: 

Dare to be different

As Ling explained, first time visitors to the site will either love it or hate it. With the former, she has a good chance of persuading them to purchase, while she doesn't care about the latter: 

They're boring, and I'm not interested in talking to boring people.

There's no denying the fact that the site stands out, and this fact alone has generated almost as much publicity as her Dragon's Den appearance back in 2007. With a more sober site, few would have heard of her. 

Clarity of information

Leasing a car, and spending £250 a month or more to do so, is a serious commitment to most customers, and one thing Ling's Cars does so well is to explain the charges and the steps in the purchase process. 

There are no hidden charges here, everything is explained upfront, why is crucial for building customer trust. 

For example, Ling spells out the £150 + VAT fee, and explains what happens next after users press the order button:

As Ling herself said, in a comment from a previous post: 

These idiot competitors are doing me a massive favour by presuming customers/visitors are stupid enough to think missing VAT off advertised prices (as you would for a business), means they pay less. I prefer to treat people intelligently and show all the costs in full. Who would commit to a car, having been misled?

Customer focus

Ling is very focused on customer service. There are live chat options all over the site, so customers can contact Ling or her staff with any questions about the process. 

A lot of the sales work goes on behind the scenes, in the LINGO system (you can see a screenshot of this in the video). There's an account page for every customer, where customers can discuss their car and the potential purchase.

I don't do email, phone or fax really (apart from when necessary) - I do LINGO. Fully typed out, indelible, nothing can be deleted. So everyone has a full conversation, no one can mislead or lie, and it's all https and EV'd. Responses on LINGO are usually within five minutes, and the customer is aware of my current average time. The same system (but visible only to me, not the customer) tracks my car dealer conversations.

The Future of Digital Marketing 2012 Keynote by Ling Valentine

Graham Charlton

Published 20 June, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Andrew Nicholson

Andrew Nicholson, Founder at The Guku

When you spend time on her site, and ignore the crying babies and rocket launchers, you'll quickly fine it to be very user friendly and conversion focused. Which, let's be honest, is what we all aspire to be.

Personally, I'd rather lease from the eccentric but clearly honest Ling than any other company out there. I just wish she'd bring her unique abilities to the world of used car sales, where she would be a breath of fresh air.

about 4 years ago

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John Ryder

I've heard of UX seminars that have used LingCars.com as an example of 'poor practice' and I've even noted the website in a list of 'worst designed websites' before.

Personally, I'm a big admirer of the site and Ling approach on the whole.

about 4 years ago

Andrew Nicholson

Andrew Nicholson, Founder at The Guku

Yes, I think there's a certain element of UX snobbery in our industry @John. Realistically, Ling wouldn't be in business today if her site didn't convert sales - and I know I for one have been very tempted to lease a car from her, so clearly she's doing a lot right.

Let's start new hash tag trending. Suggest #Ling4President?

about 4 years ago

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adibranch

Is fashion, trend and virality the key? Ie people know about the ling website, and want to be able to say to their co-workers or friends that they used it?

'Yes, i got it off ling' with a smug smile, as if they are part of a new generation of business workers who want to be seen as up to speed, jovial, trendy.

Lets face it, the website is awful.. we all know it. SOME of it is amusing, but most of it is cringeworthy. However, it works because people let it work, and embrace its absurdity with some misguided sense of being part of the new crowd, who dont care how daft something is as they can tell people about it afterwards. 'Really, whats the ling website?' 'Havent you heard?well, there's this woman from blah blah...'

Once the deal is done, the customer is still just another businessman with another passat estate.

about 4 years ago

Andrew Nicholson

Andrew Nicholson, Founder at The Guku

Not true @adibranch. The customer service is excellent, as exemplified by the numerous highly visible testimonials and live chat feature. Therefore customers get far more than just a Passat (also a Lings first aid kit, if I recall correctly)

Buying a car is a serious commitment. I very much doubt anyone would be be daft enough to sign up to a three year lease just so they can appear to be trendy in front of their friends (also, can't help but feel your idea of trendy is very different to mine if you think this is the case).

The website is not awful. In fact, it ticks all my boxes for what a good website should do.

1. It converts sales
2. It addresses customer needs
3. It has a clearly defined customer journey

Admittedly there are distractions to purchase that I would normally rally against, but you say yourself that the viral element is a strong part of the site's success, and the benefits of the distractions therefore clearly outweigh the costs.

about 4 years ago

Tom Howlett

Tom Howlett, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

I definitely think the crazy website has helped the company achieve some great publicity and increased their presence within the industry.

The website is fun, and this is the reason I believe people are likely to stick around because you never know what is around the corner. During this time they may see happy customer testimonials or even find a good deal and proceed with a purchase themselves.

It also sticks in peoples minds. I could not tell you another name for a car leasing website.

I do find it a little hard to find information on the website, however I tend to stick around rather than leaving as I would on another lease website that was quite standard in comparison.

about 4 years ago

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Ling Valentine

Thanks to everyone for the comments, really appreciated. I enjoyed the EC thing, but wanted to get back to Gateshead, because one problem my website has is that I can't switch it off - the demand for communication is relentless. I also believe in "pitch and run". :)

But I am not really very clever, I will give you some reasons why I am aggressive in marketing: this is more of a "needs must" strategy.

My biggest competitor (called Nationwide) spend at least £250k/yr on SEO (probably more). They use Fresh Egg who were at the EC event. Whereas I spend errr "far far less" with a chap called Earl, who is a grouchy, racist 80-something old Jew from Whitstable. Anyone know him?

I compete on an unlevel playing field, you see. The usual finance companies HATE me. Why? Because I am "unprofessional" (ie colourful) and noisy, not "one of the boys". They do everything they can to prevent me trading.

For instance, I applied for credit for a Kia Picanto (FFS, a tiny runaround car, for my business) last week, and ALD, one of the big players who run Kia Finance DECLINED me for credit - this is despite me having a Riskdisk score of 1 (best score possible in UK), six figures of cash sat in the bank and 5 years' accounts showing solid growth, and no other borrowing except a business mortgage. I have a perfect credit profile. And they declined me. Bastards. They simply refused me and this shows what I am up against in the industry, I have to fight them all, all the time. I am NOT one of the establishment.

I have been threateaned with being sued by the BVRLA (leasing trade association) for supplying my customers with copies of the wear and tear agreements that they are obliged to adhere to. How about that for lunacy?

I have also been threatened with being sued by ... had all the lawyer letters from BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Toyota, Citroen and VW/Audi (for daring to market their cars and showing their logos - they all accused me of "passing off" as if any customer would confuse me with an authorised dealer). I have made them all withdraw the legal actions, by telling them to piss off. Here is the Honda letter: feel free to read... [ lingscars.com/pdf/honda.pdf ] ...it's a vindictive attack on my business to stop me trading new Hondas, as you can read. It's like the Levis argument with Tescos. How DARE I get people cheap new cars??? BMW still say they will take me to the high court if I display ANY BMW image, so I have to remove pics of their cars from my website. If I show the "kidney grille", they will High Court me. They have deep pockets and may lose, but the risk to me would be high.

But that all gives some indication that I HAVE to extremely active and visible, to make my business work. It is only with the support of customers and their faith that I can trade. There are always some friendly car dealers who want (plead for) my 10 daily car proposals.

Hope that puts in perspective the atmosphere that I have to trade in, and why I seem pretty unconcerned about a few UX opinions etc :) I have learned to jump to attack, quickly, or else I would not be able to do any business at all.

- Ling

about 4 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

hi Ling,

Absolutely love the letter you wrote to Honda. It had me laughing, though the tragedy of them writing to you like that demonstrates the soulless side of corporate life.

Good luck with the business - it's great to see people standing up for what they believe in and doing what they think/know is best for their customers, even if a few people who have read an industry report say it's wrong.

Best practice guidance can help decision making but it should never take over from good customer service.

Thanks
james

about 4 years ago

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Ifraz Mughal

I am a UX person and I think you rock Ling!

Your site does all the right UX things such as knowing exactly who target customers are and what they are after. Additionally, the website clarifies all charges and explains the whole process to customers without treating them like suckers.

So we UX folks do not have issues with this, any concerns are going to be around personal opinions about design.

The problem is the people who confuse design with usability.

about 4 years ago

Ned Wells

Ned Wells, CEO at Zanzi Digital

Hi Ling,

I've just watched the video in this post and read your letter to Honda. Good on ya! I love your ballsy confident approach. And I'd be fascinated to know what kind of reply you got from Honda... if you got one at all.

Haven't spent time on your site yet but will definitely check it out.

Good luck and best wishes
Ned

about 4 years ago

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