Luxury Car Buyers Get Kid-Glove Treatment from Dealerships - The Jewish Voice
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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Luxury Car Buyers Get Kid-Glove Treatment from Dealerships

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Doug Wells, President and General Manager of Mercedes-Benz of Brooklyn
Doug Wells, President and General Manager of Mercedes-Benz of Brooklyn
Luxury vehicle buyers want service — not just repairs done right, but the kind of pampering they get at high-end hotels, restaurants and boutiques. It’s all about the extras.

In response, luxury vehicle brands are stepping up their games, rolling out unprecedented customer service, training staff and reconfiguring showrooms to cater to these buyers. The changes come as luxury sales gain steam with the auto industry’s recovery in the United States.

“There’s no such thing as a bad luxury car anymore,” said Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. “Our customers have such high expectations, and ‘I had a decent service or sales experience’ does not cut it in the competitive luxury business.”

“It is not just about putting out a big pile of money in incentives and showering them with gifts and flowers on their birthday. It is like the Ritz-Carlton or luxury experience where they feel special — that is what we are trying to do,” said Cannon, whose company launched the Customer One training program this year for all dealership employees.

Peter Miles, vice president of operations for BMW of North America, said his company is about to roll out a new dealership standard that will transform showrooms to mimic retailers such as Apple: “There is no question premium customers expect a premium experience,” he said.

“With any premium product, the experience the consumer has — whether they are learning about it or testing it — has to match the product.”

Lexus dealers near airports often provide free parking and shuttle service to the airport while an owner’s vehicle gets serviced or cleaned, says Nancy Hubbell, Lexus prestige communications manager. Dealers also offer Saturday breakfasts with free car washes, free up-close parking for Lexus owners at crowded events and owner events where they review technology, maintenance or other issues.

What dealers choose to do “depends on the dealership and what resonates in their community,” Hubbell said.

Not about price

“If I can’t differentiate and make you feel special about the experience, then it is all about price, and then we’re no different than any other commodity product in the car business,” Cannon said.

Mercedes-Benz customers “want to be thrilled and delighted,” he said.

“We are trying to rally the dealer body around ‘the best or nothing’ customer experience and energize dealership employees to delight. That does not mean goodwill money on the table.”

Mercedes-Benz has completed the first round of training with 11,000 customer-facing dealership employees. During that training, Mercedes discovered about 70 percent of the employees had never driven one of the brand’s vehicles. So it is launching DASH — Drive a Star Home — and is putting 700 Mercedes-Benz vehicles on the road at a cost of $4 million so dealership employees can take one home for two nights. The program starts early next year.

Mercedes-Benz also polled 22,000 dealership workers about the store where they work, asking about leadership, culture and whether they are engaged in their jobs, Cannon said. About 15,000 employees responded. Mercedes-Benz consultants are discussing the results of the anonymous survey in person with dealer principals and store managers.

‘Declutter the showroom’

BMW wants to change the environment of its dealerships simply because “we know over the last 10 years consumers come into dealerships less to learn about cars,” Miles said.

Shoppers used to come in four times to check out a vehicle, he said. Now they come in twice. “They need an environment that isn’t just a sales environment,” Miles said.

During the first quarter, BMW will unveil its first new facility standard in a decade. The aim, Miles said, is to “declutter the showroom over the next four to five years.”

That means getting rid of the cubicles, the glass rooms and the office environment to make the showroom more like an Apple computer store with “a lot of product. You buy things there, but you can also learn,” Miles said.

BMW envisions using more high-definition screens to provide product information and displaying cars in detail with varied options, colors and upholstery, Miles said. No customer wants to be tackled by a salesman and put into a cubicle, he said. That’s especially a turnoff at the finance and insurance end, where there’s often a bottleneck, Miles said. BMW wants to speed that process and have contracts on tablets rather than paper.

Details are being worked out. Dealers will have until 2016 to comply, but BMW wants most of the elements in place in 2014, the first full year of sales for its i3 compact electric car, Miles said.

“This is not bricks and mortar. We have enough capacity in bricks,” he said. “It is about improving the efficiency and meeting what we see are premium customer expectations.”

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