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Posted by Nick Salloway on 09 August 2011

How the motor industry can create more engaging showroom experiences

A fictitous representation of what a car made by Apple might look like.

I recently came across an article which makes reference to a talk given by Karl Mckeever, brand director at UK visual merchandising consultancy Visual Thinking, at Urban Science’s Dealerships of the Future event.

I wasn’t at the event but McKeever apparently argued in his talk that the motor retail industry must rebalance its corporate marketing spend away from its historic preference for ‘above the line’ advertising to increase priority on creating better, more engaging showroom experiences at local dealership level, as this is where customers experience brands in reality.

He went on to cite how brands such as Apple and T Mobile were delivering best in class experiences within their physical retail environments and urged the motor industry to learn from these examples.

All admirable stuff but can you really compare a motor retail experience with the Apple store and if so, can retailers ever hope to mimic Apple’s retail success?

Having worked with a leading UK motor retailer and having recently spent a fair amount of time in both Apple stores and car showrooms, this got me thinking. What might an Apple car dealership look like? How might a motor dealer deliver the kind of retail experience that has become synonymous with the Apple brand and what would manufactures and dealers need to change in their showrooms to give visitors the same brand experience they get when they visit an Apple store?

Here’s my top tips:

#1 SCRAP YOUR SALES QUOTAS

Don’t try to sell me a car, seriously! When I go into the Apple store, nobody tries to sell me anything, in fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, which recently spent some time researching Apple’s retail operations, sales staff within Apple stores don’t actually have sales quotas. Instead they are given strict training in the A.P.P.L.E. code which is designed to ensure customers experience a strictly ‘no pressure’ environment in which retail staff are trained to ask questions so that they can resolve issues or concerns and help customers make an informed choice.

In my experience, some dealerships are better at this than others but more often than not, as soon as I walk through the doors of a car dealership, I’m engendered with a feeling that I’m some kind of floundering fish being drawn to the lure of an aggressive sales person who’s sole objective is notch up another ‘victim’ on their monthly sales quota.

When it happens it’s a horrible experience that contrasts sharply with the experience when I go into those lovely Apple stores.

#2 SHOW ME EVERYTHING YOU’VE GOT

I want to see the full range of vehicles, not just the best selling ones.

I know this is probably never going to be possible as most brands/manufacturers will have dozens of cars in their range but when I go into the Apple store, I can see every product they sell so telling me you can have the car I’m thinking about here next week probably doesn’t cut it. I’m in the showroom now, how can you get me in front of the vehicle I’m thinking about buying rather than the one you happen to have in the showroom? (Time for some innovative thinking!)

By the way, while I’m in the showroom, I want to be able to get in and out of as many cars as I like, without having to ask for the keys each time and I certainly don’t want a sales person ‘hovering’ while I’m browsing.

#3 BE PREPARED NOT TO TALK TO ME

Be conspicuous (wear blue t-shirts if you like!) and be knowledgeable about your products so that you’re ready with informed answers to questions when I do ask them.

However, also be prepared NOT to talk to me; in fact I may just want to come in, look around, play with the cars and then walk out again without ever speaking to you.

Let me do it!

Do NOT accost me and ask me to fill in a customer enquiry form so that you can call me the next day for “feedback on my experience”. I’m not daft, I know what you’re really after is my contact details so that you can add me to your mailing list or call me again in three months.

Remember the secret ‘Apple’ ingredient is NO quotas and NO pressure!

#4 DELIVER ME A GENIUS SERVICE

Get rid of your ‘service department’ and provide me with the motor dealer equivalent of the Genius Bar.

In other words, deliver me an after sales service that looks and feels like a service and not like a post-sale revenue collection opportunity.

What do I mean?

Well, as with the Apple Store, a service focused brand experience would start online where I’d be able to book an appointment. When I arrive at the service desk, I’d be seen on time and offered a polite welcome. Thereafter, the member of staff would extend me the same courtesy and enquiring, helpful manner that I would hopefully have received when I first bought my car.

When I arrive for my appointment, I shouldn’t have to pay a £70 ‘diagnostic fee’ only for a technician to then take my car off into the workshop for an hour and plug it into a computer that I know will diagnose the problem in little more than a few minutes.

There isn’t a diagnosis charge when I go into the Apple store and their Gurus typically diagnose a problem within a few minutes.

 It should be the same with my car!

The technicians and mechanics at a branded car dealership are supposed to be experts, they should know their cars inside out, just as the Gurus at the Apple store know their iPods, iPhones and Mac Books inside out.

 If the vehicle manufacturers and dealers want me to feel the same way about them as I do about the Apple brand, all they have to do is diagnose my problem without the use of my credit card, then I’ll pay for any necessary repairs and go happily on my way.

If they really want to push the boat out, they could give me a call a day or two after the repair has been done; just to check that all is well.

#5 GIVE A LITTLE

Recently when my daughter dropped her 3-month-old iPod touch, I took it into the Genius bar fully expecting to have to pay for a repair. Not only was there no charge for a repair, they actually replaced the iPod with a brand new one, at no cost and with no questions!

When I had an issue with my MacBook following a software update, I took it into the Genius Bar and it was sorted in five minutes, again with no charge.

Now THAT’s the kind of brand experience that inspires LOYALTY!

So in summary, I think I’d have to agree with McKeever; car manufacturers and dealers can and should do be doing a better job in their showrooms. It’s all very well spending hard earned profits on TV ads or press campaigns to build awareness of their brands and to create desire for their products but frankly, if their retail and after sales experience falls short, it’s wasted money.

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