Article

The VIP Treatment

Facing OEM-mandated facility upgrades, Hoffman Audi took the opportunity to give its service drive a makeover that is winning praise from customers.

June 2013, Auto Dealer Today - Feature

by Brittni Rubin

Facing OEM-mandated facility upgrades, Hoffman Audi took the opportunity to give its service drive a makeover that is winning praise from customers.

At a time when most dealers are in an uproar over manufacturer updates, Hoffman Audi decided to make a voluntary renovation. In January, the East Hartford, Conn.- based dealership cut the ribbon on a new waiting room dubbed by employees as the “Audi Ultra Lounge Experience.”

The lounge features comfortable, theaterstyle seating, modern décor, a beverage station and a fireplace to create a homier environment. And since more consumers have turned to smartphones and tablets, the dealership was able to move the lounge’s computers off to the side to create more open space.

The man who proposed the renovation was Elliot Matos, the dealership’s service manager. He pitched the idea last year and is now responsible for keeping the lounge stocked with amenities. Fifty percent of the funding comes from Hoffman Audi’s amenity budget, while the dealer principal provides the other half.

To spread the word about the renovations, Hoffman Audi is stretching its dealership dollars with year-round complimentary promotional events and, as a result, has watched customer satisfaction reach new heights.

A NEW KIND OF RELAUNCH

Hoffman Audi celebrated the grand reopening by hosting a new event every Saturday — the store’s busiest day of the week — throughout the month of February. Events included complimentary massages, manicures and an open omelette bar.

“That was a launch approach to get customers informed and excited about what’s going on,” Matos says. “We have two things working for us: our understanding of the importance of customer retention and the support we get from our manufacturer.”

The Ultra Lounge is visible from the dealership’s showroom, so Saturday amenities are usually mentioned during a sales pitch. “It’s thrilling for our staff to have that added ace up their sleeve to close the deal,” Matos says.

In the coming months, Hoffman Audi will transition to hosting such events less often — but with a new set of high-class activities. Matos maintains a two-month calendar of upcoming events, which he posts in the lounge and sends out to customers via e-mail blasts.

The dealership also uses TV, radio and social media to draw in customers to the dealership and the new lounge. The store’s Facebook page is updated regularly with event reminders. The dealership also posts advertorial web banners on its website to promote activities.

One staple service, a complimentary breakfast, is offered all week long for cus- tomers who bring their vehicle in for service between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. Once the customer is written up, a service representative will presents him or her with a menu featuring five breakfast sandwiches, each named after an Audi model. And customers are guaranteed to have a fresh sandwich in their hand within 15 minutes.

“This amenity isn’t cheap, so with something like this, you have to consider longterm sustainability,” Matos says. “That’s why breakfast is only for customers who invest in a service. We want their waiting experience to be a highlight experience.”

On a regular day, while clients are waiting at Hoffman Audi, they are handed what Matos calls “Thanks for coming” souvenirs. Gifts can include hats, mouse pads, cups and tote bags.

DELIVERING THE ‘WOW’ FACTOR

Matos says customer expectations of the dealership’s parts and service departments have evolved over the last few years. Pickup and drop-off services are now expected, as are complimentary car washes and free loaner vehicles.

“Nowadays, if you really want to excite the customer, you have to do something above and beyond,” Matos says. “What I was hoping to achieve with the Ultra Lounge Experience amenities was to recreate the ‘Wow’ factor that’s been missing for so long.”

Instead of hosting one big launch party, where guests would eat, drink and leave, Hoffman Audi decided to use its funds for more effective marketing. “My philosophy was, if I could use that money to host a year-long event and really stretch those dollars, I could return the ‘Wow’ factor and retain more customers,” Matos notes. “Whether or not a customer takes you up on the offer of a free breakfast, the ‘Wow’ factor is still achieved.”

The dealership plans to stick with its marketing strategy through 2013 and beyond, Matos adds. “We’re really trying to spark up the customer experience to make it something special,” he explains. “It’s hard, and it’s something we have to think about every day. If you think about it every day, one day you’ll get an answer. So far, our answer has been remarkably successful.”

SATISFACTION EQUALS PROFITS

While the lounge was under construction back in January, Hoffman Audi’s CSI score dipped into the low 900s out of 1,000 points. But after the start of the dealership’s marketing program, its score climbed back into the 970- to 980-point range.

“Our CSI was always traditionally strong; however, with this new lounge, we’ve netted a point bump and have calculated from surveys and reviews that we’re making 97 percent of our customers really happy,” Matos says, noting that Audi has begun ask- ing other dealers to step up to Hoffman’s standards.

“They’re putting their feet to the fire, saying, ‘This is what these guys are doing, and these are the results,’” Matos adds

Hoffman Audi’s customers have even taken to Yelp and other social media outlets to share their positive feedback. Online re- views in total have increased as well.

“Satisfaction really translates to dollars,” Matos explains. “Profitability is a byproduct of good customer service. ... It’s going to translate remarkably well because people really want to come back.”

CUSTOMER RETENTION

The dealership’s marketing strategy caters to new and old customers alike. For repeat customers, Matos says having additional amenities just provides an incentive to stay.

“A customer came in and told me, ‘I’m bringing my husband’s car here on Saturdays from now on so I can get a manicure,’” Matos says. “That’s a return customer we know is going to come back.”

Naturally, customers aren’t going to come into the dealership to get services they don’t need. However, Matos says they know the dealership is there for them if their Audi should require any additional services be- tween regularly scheduled visits.

“It’s cheaper to keep the customers you have than to find new ones,” Matos says. “We can’t let our current customers go away, but we really do have to go after new customers too. And that’s what our lounge helps us do.”

Matos says there’s something else the dealership is targeting with its marketing strategy. “We have customers that own other highline vehicles, and we want them to switch over to us,” Matos says. “So, if they also own a Mercedes, we want to create an experience at Audi that’s different — one they’ll like so much they’ll totally migrate to our brand.”

The trick, Matos explains, is to constantly refresh your marketing ideas and look for new and original ways to grab customers’ attention.

“The minute you think you have to stop thinking of new ideas, you’ll create more things to worry about,” Matos says. “You always have to keep it fresh to prevent things from going stale. I see this new type of offering becoming very common among dealers in the future.”

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