If I were to make the mistake of asking whether you look forward to having your car serviced at an auto dealership, I expect you’d look at me as if I’d just grown horns.
This isn’t necessarily your car dealer’s fault, or not exactly. The retail automotive customer experience is paradoxical. As cars improve in ride, reliability, safety, and other positive markers, the dichotomy between the desired and actual customer experience when owners come in to have their cars serviced only becomes more stark.
If automotive retailers, including their service and parts operations, are going to succeed in elevating the customer experience, they need in particular to understand four principles of what customers today are looking for. These are four of the most important principles I design for, implement, and provide training for as a customer experience and customer service consultant, including in the arena of automotive retail.
1. Today’s customers see time as the ultimate luxury. Be obsessive about reducing wait times (for more on this, see my article on the cliff of dissatisfaction), and to the extent that you can’t literally speed up a customer’s wait time, make the waiting experience as pleasant as possible via tasteful amenities in the customer areas, unexpected services to brighten their day, and connectivity that supports their ability to get work done and to entertain themselves.
2. Today’s customers expect a “default of yes.” Particularly if you’re selling an excellent product, a product that “simply works,” you need the customer experience to also be a series of “yeses,” not a series of obstacles. So, it’s essential that every employee serving the public commit to a goal of getting to a “yes” for every customer, rather than “no,” “not my department,” “it doesn’t work that way here,” and so forth.
3. Today’s customers prefer an authentic, unscripted style of customer service. Scripted customer service–especially the clichéd auto dealer scripting of yesteryear–“Shall we use your pen or mine to autograph this agreement?”–is a quick way to turn off today’s consumers. What customers are looking for instead from automotive professionals is a sincere approach and an “I’m on your side” attitude. Also important: with all of the information at the fingertips of today’s customers, it’s essential to not dismiss the knowledge and expertise of your customers. Instead, the attitude to strive for, when interacting with an owner who comes armed with internet-derived knowledge, is “you know a lot and I respect that.”
4. Today’s customers seek out quality and craftsmanship–local craftsmanship in particular–with which to surround themselves. Customer areas should be upgraded to be on par with what your customers find in high-end hotels and retail spaces. Beyond this, it’s important to realize that customers are now, more than ever, passionate about authenticity and what I call “terroir”: a sense of locale.
One automotive brand and organization that’s started an effort to build an improved customer experience is Audi of America. Their goal, says Joe Rood, Director of Service Operations, is ambitious: to be as customer-focused, welcoming, and hospitable as the best hotel and retail experiences their well-heeled luxury owners have experienced in the rest of their lives. According to Rood, it’s all part of making the invisible visible:
Our owners can’t see what goes on behind the scenes when we service their vehicles, though this will be in evidence when they hit the road. But what they do recognize is how well we treat them during the experience and how well we do at crafting each interaction to meet their needs at that time. When we get this right, it goes a long way toward creating an Audi fan.”
This is far from a completed journey at Audi, as Rood and team readily admit. There’s a lot to get right, and no brand out there–including Audi–can claim to be getting it right at every dealership, all of the time. But there are already some standout dealerships to be found. [Disclosure: I was introduced to these improvement efforts as a result of my professional engagements in this space.] For example, consider the Audi Flatirons dealership in Broomfield, Colorado: As an owner bringing in your car to be serviced here, what you’d find waiting for you is pretty sweet.
From the first greeting you receive walking into the Flatirons dealership, their hope is that you’ll feel the warmth of their reimagined approach. They’ve revamped their treatment of customers, via new training and employee-support efforts, to focus on of making customers feel “more at home than you’ve ever felt walking in to a car dealer before.” You’ll find coffee that’s locally sourced and freshly brewed. The pastries are local and artisanal, rather than the Costco donuts you may have come to expect. (Not that I’m opposed to Costco donuts in other contexts; as a Seattleite, Costco is my home team and a favorite source of calories. But obviously, they don’t quite exude “local authenticity” in the heart of the Rockies.) There are plentiful, well-marked outlets for customers to charge their phones and tablets. The seating is comfortable, well-thought-out, and in tip-top repair.
The standout amenity, however, is one you can’t munch on or drink. It has wheels: two wheels, not four, even though this is a car dealer. It turns out that dropping off your Audi for service is your opportunity to play Miss Gulch, or a local hotshot on the trails; the choice is yours. The Flatirons dealership has a variety of top-of-the-line bicycles available as loaners: basket bikes (a modern take on the “wind-began-to-switch” classic); these allow customers to bring back a haul from the mall across the street. And, for those feeling more outdoorsy, as is very common in the Colorado customer base, there are mountain bikes that allow you to get out and enjoy the trails in this beautiful area while your car is getting serviced.