So I did an e-mail interview with Ling Valentine back in 2013 but I only published it on my Swedish blog. By popular demand, here is my post with Ling’s answers in English (which they of course originally were written in!).
In talks and posts I sometimes reference Ling Valentine who is the proprietor of one of the most startling websites for car leasing: LingsCars in the United Kingdom. People I show this site to truly believe it is a hoax, but not only does this business show signs of complete madness – it is also rather profitable. I was given the opportunity to ask Ling some questions the other week and of course this is the perfect day for publishing it… because, you know: Valentine’s Day!
First, if you have no idea what the site looks like, take a look at my screen recording:
1. How many people work with LingsCars?
Eight people work at LINGsCARS currently, plus Jamie who used to be head of IT but has now gone freelance, but he is still very much part of my team on a retainer. So, 9 people really.
Emma and I do sales, Wai does sales progression and bookkeeping, Holly and Guy do customer admin, Jon does everything out of the ordinary, and Chris does IT. Annie cleans and maintains, part time.
My website does an incredible amount of work. I am actively looking for two or three more people which will enable me to hit my medium-term target of £100,000 of sales a month (currently hitting £60k of sales this month and average £50k a month over the last year).
2. How much and what type of design thinking do you employ (UX, research, neuropsychology or best practices)?
Everyone contributes to my website. The website feeds us all, so we all have a big interest in it. Often customers and visitors chip in and people on Twitter give me ideas and comments come out of the blue. Some are very insightful. You have to realise that no one just buys a car, it is a very big, long term decision. Few people convert purchases as big as this on the web with no physical intervention. I need people to remember my website and return when it’s time.
About 65% of business comes from my website with no human contact, just the LINGsCARS website doing its job.
On one level a great deal of thinking goes into my website, deciding how customers will use it and maximising customer interaction and dwell-time, but mostly making it fun. But on the other hand, I do things instinctively, do difficult things willingly, and make pages that no one else would consider (heavy, long, bright, animated, off-the-wall, difficult coding, hundreds of queries or whatever)… without any AB testing or analysis or anything else.
I just think “that looks good, we’ll do that”, or “visitors will LOVE that”. I am wanting different people to love different things, so it stands to reason that some people will hate some things. I think many web businesses are scared stiff of causing any offence, and to me that is a very weak way to work… and it comes across to customers as weak.
I think you have to back websites up with offline assets, so for example I show the office on webcams with interesting things to spot, a new (3 x 55″ TV) video display I am building that people will watch on the webcam – daft but true – it gives people the confidence that I am real, I exist. But, I don’t mentalise about stuff, I would rather just do it.
3. What does a typical customer look like?
The market for new cars in the UK is just around 2 million a year. Just under half are private purchases. Most private or small business new car buyers are, by default, liquid and good credit risks. These are my target customers.
My customers are predominately male, predominantly middle aged (hence the karaoke music from that era and my rocket and my Dalek), mainly professional, and predominantly reasonably IT savvy. They also have an open attitude (or else they will say they would “never” buy from me).
So, my customers are usually happy chappies and I have a very good time chatting with them on my secure CRM called LINGO.
I do everything in writing on there, very rarely using the phone. Cars are big things and having everything in writing is something no other company does, and it protects both me and the customer, they appreciate that. I never ask for any money at all until car delivery, I do everything on trust. I do occasionally say “no” to some people who otherwise qualify for credit.
I have a large number of repeat customers, which over the long term is cumulative. I answer my customers LINGO messages within 5 minutes in normal working hours, so they always have great confidence I am there and learn to prefer using online chat to the phone. The phone is wasteful, dangerous for big-ticket items and I often need to quickly research answers to avoid giving bullshit nonsense to customers.
END OF INTERVIEW.
What strikes me the most is how fearless Ling Valentine is and how customers seem to appreciate her direct, honest attitude, that she defies the norm, trusts her customers, makes them laugh and the fact that she is quick to respond. Imagine if more companies realized that one needs to answer within minutes for the digital channels to become a straightforward and ultimately lucrative option. The insight about breathing time for research when communication is via chat is also spot on.
I am hugely grateful to Ling for taking the time to answer me; these are valuable insights I think many of us will have reason to revisit. The bigger question now is how much the rest of us dare embrace the same refreshing disposition.