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Automotive Dealerships Should Look More Like Genius Bars

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When we conducted our electric vehicle customer journey research last year, we confirmed a commonly held belief in the United States: most people aren’t happy with their dealership experiences, specifically as it relates to aggressive sales tactics. Automotive customers desire experiences and service centers that meet their needs, listen to their concerns, and provide a comfortable environment to explore vehicles at their own pace. OEMs are putting a greater emphasis on the customer experience, whether online or at the dealership, than ever before, but are we thinking about this priority the right way?

No longer are demographics of automotive shoppers dominated by the Baby Boomers and Generation X folks. The largest group of shoppers are now Millennials and Generation Z, both of which had access to computers, handheld devices, and subscriptions services for a significant part of their lives. However, when I think of an iconic experience that has touched a majority of these shoppers and changed their expectations for all other experiences, I think of Apple and the experience at their stores.

The Apple Store Difference

I remember walking in a mall and comparing the Microsoft store to the Apple store. What a huge difference in customer experience. Microsoft was a typical mall store, which had nothing really wrong with it, but it held no candle to Apple’s stores.

The Apple store is an experience where customers would not only transact to get products and services, but also engage with the products and staff. The staff was extremely educated about all the products, and their job was to guide customers to experience the products and learn more about them, focusing less on the aggressive sales tactics that many other stores implemented. As a result, people actually made plans to go to the Apple store to hang out, play with the latest products, take classes, and even have personal meetings with the “Apple Geniuses.”  As my wife is shopping at the mall, I have often found myself spending time at the Genius Bar learning new features on my iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Mac computer.

What If Dealerships Were Like Genius Bars?

So, here’s my question to everyone who thinks dealerships must be only focused on selling vehicles or driving traffic to service centers: Is there not another option? What if automotive dealerships were more like the Genius Bars at the Apple stores, and people looked forward to visiting rather than dreading a whole day of browsing options, negotiating, and paperwork? I think of my mother-in-law, who has bought three brand new vehicles — an Aston Martin, BMW, and recently an Audi — only to immediately return all three because she could not understand the technology in the vehicles.

It’s true that vehicles will only get more complex with time, and there will be many benefits to these new features, but a critical component that we fail to consider is how customers will be able to learn all this technology. Especially since most drivers keep their vehicles for a few years, the technology will have changed so much by the time they begin shopping for a new one.

Customers need accessible and beginner-friendly ways to explore new vehicle technology and feel confident about driving a new car off the lot. There should be resources available on how to use the dashboard, connected products, subscription services, and even software updates. All OEMs should have a mobile app if they do not already, and all OEMs should be working with dealers to make sure that their customers understand how to get the most out of their vehicles using that app. Imagine a future in which folks are booking classes at the dealership, playing with new products, and getting sneak previews of upcoming products and the latest technology.

The Evolution of Loyalty Requires a New CX Approach

The saleswomen at my local Ford dealership spent over an hour with me on my new Edge just to explain how to use the dashboard. Her commitment to creating a great experience has made my wife and I loyal to her dealership, and we buy all our vehicles from that location. Even better, we send our friends and family to this dealership.

I am suggesting that dealerships change their approach to customers by looking beyond service and delivery centers as the only means to lifetime value. They must considering becoming a lot more like Genius Bars, and OEMs should invest in this future for their dealers as well.

Enabling dealers to become showrooms staffed with educators, such as with dashboard screen simulators that teach customers about how to leverage the great technology within vehicles, is the key to long-lasting loyalty and increased revenue. Consumers who understand connected products will spend more money on subscriptions and will be more likely to keep coming back for purchases, from vehicles to aftermarket parts, as well as servicing.

The Genius Bar approach is not an earth-shattering idea, but rather a strategy that aligns the brand with the new technology it sells and the modern consumer it sells to. If done correctly, the increased loyalty will help OEMs and their dealers better understand their customer base, providing more guidance for future product releases.

At Perficient, our automotive experts are ready to help you create a great customer experience, both online and at your dealerships. Whether you need a workshop to develop an approach or a capability assessment for the technology you’ll need, we have the industry knowledge and the technological expertise to build a sustainable competitive advantage for your brand. Together, we can develop your consumer lifetime value and increase loyalty.

Tap into our automotive industry expertise.

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Keith Tomatore

A long-time senior executive in the auto industry who has held the position of SVP, Retail Marketing at Global Team Blue (GTB, a WPP Company) on the Ford Retail Business. In this role, Keith worked with the Ford Dealer Associations across the country to help them with their Precision Marketing and digital efforts. Also, he served as CEO of iFrog Marketing Solutions, which focused on Automotive advertising solutions for Tier 2 and Tier 3.

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