Article

5 Ways to Redefine the Customer Experience

Facilities expert shares five design trends that are driving sales and service at dealerships nationwide.

September 2014, Auto Dealer Today - Feature

by Brent Tally

The showroom at Earnhardt Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram in Gilbert, Ariz., features an open floorplan with circular tables that can seat up to five people and a purposeful flow toward the service department. 
The showroom at Earnhardt Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram in Gilbert, Ariz., features an open floorplan with circular tables that can seat up to five people and a purposeful flow toward the service department. 

Understanding the importance of how the design of your showroom environment shapes the customer experience could be one of the last untapped edges you may have over your nearest competitor. Here are five ways to enhance the car-buying experience and showcase your brand:

1. Establish Clear Access Points

Five seconds! Studies have shown that first impressions are formed within five seconds, and one bad first impression will force a business to create 22 additional positive impressions to overcome the initial negative impact. Dealers can’t afford to wait for 22 more “ups.” Whether you are undergoing a factory-mandated upgrade or a basic remodel, commit to having a prominent customer entry point. It may seem like a minor detail, but it’s critical to your brand image.

High-end retailers routinely post their best and brightest associate at the customer entry (or “concierge”) point. In this transition zone, consumers change their mindset from the simple act of arriving to the act of purchasing. Staffing your most personable — and professional — associate here will help make each customer’s first impression a positive one. Build your sales team’s belief in this critical area by asking them to enter the store the same way, every day.

The most effective dealership designs put equal emphasis on customer flow-through to the service department. Replicate design themes and architectural elements from the main entry point in the service area. This simple step helps put new fixed-ops customers at ease and tells them they can expect the same level of service and attention to detail throughout the dealership.

At John Elway’s Crown Toyota in Ontario, Calif., a sales manager bar takes the place of the menacing, raised sales towers that still loom over many showrooms. 
At John Elway’s Crown Toyota in Ontario, Calif., a sales manager bar takes the place of the menacing, raised sales towers that still loom over many showrooms. 
2. Stay on the Level

Raised sales towers are for boiler rooms. Sales manager bars and concierge points are a better choice for dealerships.

Many customers arrive at your dealership with preconceived notions. They may worry that the sales process will be one-sided or that your team will be pushy. This perception is only highlighted when their first impression is dominated by a menacing, raised sales tower and a whiteboard tracking month-to-date sales stats and trends. Establishing a clutter-free common area in the shape of a bar will lower customer apprehension and make all interactions more collaborative.

3. Redefine the Meaning of ‘Desking a Deal’

If you think a detail like furniture, fixtures and equipment (referred to as “FF&E” in the construction game) cannot help or hurt your sales performance, think again. Taking a moment to understand your furniture options is time well spent. Studies have shown that 35% of a customer’s in-store time is spent sitting with a sales manager, an F&I professional or an accompanying friend or family member.

Providing a comfortable place to interact with your team will create a more familial, less stressful environment. Many dealers are rethinking their FF&E and installing multiple small circular tables that can accommodate three to five customers. This is a huge improvement over dated, penned-in cubicles or solid-wall plans. The shape of the tables promotes interpersonal connections and the “polka dot” pattern they create offers a less adversarial space dynamic for visitors.

4. Make Every Customer Feel Like a Star

When your new-car buyers take delivery, they should feel like a celebrity walking the red carpet. Every new-car purchase is an accomplishment. Recognize it, celebrate it and make it a lasting memory.

Ensure your delivery stage has adequate lighting appropriate for digital photos and video. Invest in a professional, branded backdrop. Each customer’s digital record should highlight them, their new wheels and, most importantly, your store. This area should leave a lasting impression; after all, it is the last touchpoint before the customer returns for their first service visit.

Finally, the most effective new-car stages are positioned within 25 feet of your general sales manager’s office — in other words, within earshot.

The reception desk at Earnhardt Hyundai in Scottsdale, Ariz., makes a memorable first impression on new visitors. Like many high-end retailers, dealers are beginning to realize the utility of staffing their “concierge” point with their best and brightest associates. 
The reception desk at Earnhardt Hyundai in Scottsdale, Ariz., makes a memorable first impression on new visitors. Like many high-end retailers, dealers are beginning to realize the utility of staffing their “concierge” point with their best and brightest associates. 
5. Rotate Brand Messages and Interior Design Elements

All too often, dealers complete a large-scale re-image project and then immediately move on to the next task. It is important to implement an interior brand campaign that tastefully engages the customers in the showroom and never grows stale.

Updated vehicle information, strategically positioned product towers, high-quality posters of new vehicles, customer-led digital sales media and product and brand timelines all add to your customers’ in-store experience, as do natural design elements like plants and waterscapes. Having a system in place to update and rotate messages will keep your interior fresh and demonstrate your commitment to maintaining an engaging sales environment for your team.

Interior design firms such as Trademark Visual, Spaces Inc. and Emblem provide design expertise and on-site service teams to manage brand campaigns, image installations and rotations. Having an objective third-party provider manage this process removes headaches and ensures your vision is executed flawlessly.

I believe the difference between a good-performing dealership and a great-performing dealership is in the details. Successful dealers understand that even the smallest detail or added step can sway a customer in any direction. The same is true for the details of your facility’s design. Make a personal investment in your next remodel to improve your customer experience, enhance your brand and boost your sales.

Brent Tally is the founder and president of TallyCM, a firm that specializes in the design and construction management of automotive facilities.
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