By Richard Yarrow
Antiquated vending machines serving luke-warm instant coffee in beige plastic cups; well-thumbed car magazines; threadbare chairs leaking stuffing – automotive retail has moved a long way from how it used to treat its showroom customers.
These days coffee often comes from a barista, the only thumb marks are on the complimentary tablet computer and rest areas look like they have been lifted from high-end hotels.
Expectations in all retail sectors continue to rise and it is no different in motor retail. When there are very few truly bad cars, the key battleground for winning and retaining customers can come down to the quality of the customer experience.
Dealerships have every opportunity to use gadgets and gizmos to engage with customers visiting the showroom. Technology can help visitors feel more relaxed, but it need not be restricted to a couple of iPads for customer use and a fancy coffee machine.
Interactive, wall-mounted displays, multiple TV monitors, complimentary Wi-Fi and even social media all have a part to play in helping to entertain or engage the visitor – or their children. Used appropriately, these devices can also enhance the digital sales process and raise brand awareness.
But first, a word of warning. Hugh Dickerson, senior industry head of automotive at Google, said the showroom ambience and comfort or convenience features shouldn’t become a sideshow at the expense of getting the fundamentals right.
“A customer’s primary purpose in going there is to buy a car,” he said. “They want to have a good experience, and part of that will be a nice coffee, but if that’s all they want they will go to Starbucks.”
Dickerson said research showed helpful and knowledgeable sales people, supported by great technology and a good selection of the right cars in stock, was rated as more important.
Tim Bundy, business development director at TrustFord in Hemel Hempstead, said with customers used to advanced technology and innovation in their vehicles, they expect similar in the dealership. “This requires us to focus more attention than ever before on the customer environment. We make sure it fulfils both the functional requirements of displaying new vehicles to the best effect, but also to provide a relaxing and welcoming environment.”