The car purchasing process has evolved. Customers make fewer visits to the dealership and arrive armed with information. They often know the make, model, and features they want before they walk into a showroom. They are wary of sales tactics. Buyers expect a positive experience during and after the purchase process. Your dealership has one brief moment to make a great first impression.
A welcoming environment starts with a bright and professional physical space. It includes a hospitable and friendly team — buyers dread the pushy sales experience and appreciate a knowledgeable, helpful salesperson.
An inviting environment extends to how carefully you consider the customer experience from their point of view. In today’s digital world, creating a welcoming environment for car buyers also includes your online presence.
6 Basics of an Impressive Showroom
When buyers walk into a showroom, it launches their physical impression of the dealership. The lighting, music, scent, cleanliness, and comfort of the furniture all matter. How is the customer greeted?
If a prospective buyer walks in anticipating a multiyear relationship, the first visit is an audition. They want to be impressed by professionalism and expertise. They want to feel invited to buy without heavy pressure.
Here are six basics to set up a welcoming physical space at your dealership:
1. Find the Right Temperature
Comfort is important to the big-ticket shopper. When your showroom is pleasant for the time of year, customers feel welcomed. Physically, they can relax and look around. For many people, temperature affects their mood and mental clarity. It’s a shame to lose a shopper simply because they’re uncomfortably hot or cold.
2. Clear Away Clutter
When we spend time in the same space every day, we can develop “clutter blindness.” The clutter is still there, but somehow we don’t notice it. A customer walks in with fresh eyes and sees it all.
Take a walk through your showroom. Imagine you are there for the first time and know nothing about your business. Are there stacks of papers on the desks? Magazines scattered across the table? Coffee grinds on the counter? Boxes with old marketing flyers in the corner? These details are a normal part of a business but make a space appear cluttered to the customer.
3. Modernize Your Lighting
If you don’t have bright sunlight illuminating your showroom year-round, high-quality LED lights produce bright illumination while saving on energy and maintenance costs. LED lights last five to fifty times longer and use 75% less energy than incandescent lights. Be wary of cheap LEDs, as they’ve been known to cause inconsistent color tones. Another option is halogen lighting, which instantly brightens a room with white light.
Halogen and LED lights last longer, use less energy, and are easier on customers’ eyes compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. It’s an easy fix, and everyone wins.
4. Include Hospitality Touches
Simple touches invite customers to relax as they stroll around your dealership. Complimentary snacks and beverages draw them in — even something as uncomplicated as cookies and coffee. Flowers in the service area, a selection of recent magazines, and free Wi-Fi all welcome customers. They feel appreciated and are more inclined to take their time.
5. Provide an Interactive Car Showroom
With different car types, a slight change in their arrangement can help customers notice both design and variety at the same time. Today’s shoppers depend on the dealership for an interactive experience. It’s the only place they can touch, feel, and drive the vehicle before purchasing.
This interaction can be an important step in the decision process. Engaging with the customer about their interaction with the car can be a comfortable way to start the conversation. Contextual interactions engage customers on an emotional level. For example, as a customer approaches a car with clear interest, open the door and invite them inside. This brings them deeper into the experience and results in higher engagement.
6. Create an Oasis
Some shoppers need to stop and think as part of the buying process. An area where customers can rest comfortably, enjoy their food and beverage, or explore vehicles digitally permits them to take this step without leaving the dealership.
Even if a customer is walking in for the first time, seeing current customers lounging in a dedicated space adds to the welcoming environment.
Know Your Community
How do you buy word-of-mouth advertising? You don’t. Customer advocates aren’t bought, they’re won by providing an outstanding customer experience. The simplest way to create this experience is to know your community and your customers.
Pay attention to your customers’ inquiries through all channels. Both social media and traditional channels give us access to valuable feedback. A rule of thumb is to resolve customer concerns within 24 hours while it’s fresh for them. A well-treated unhappy customer can turn into an advocate, because when you treat people courteously and truly help them, they remember you.
Responding to feedback is a win-win. Updating your service according to the buyer’s needs can only make you a more successful business. You can let customers know they are heard and that their experience matters by announcing upgrades and improvements.
Listening to current customers can contribute to word-of-mouth sales. It also creates a catered environment for new shoppers.
Balance Space and Acknowledgment
“70% of our decision to buy is based on how we are treated as people.”
— John McKean, Customers Are People…The Human Touch
Many shoppers still see car buying as a painful task. Stereotypes of pushy, manipulative salespeople and a drawn-out sales process definitely contribute. Sales consultants need to engage customers in a way that invites them in rather than pushes them away. They do this through a balance of space and acknowledgment. Give the shopper space to explore but be available to offer guidance. If they have questions, they’ll ask.
Show customers that your team respects and values them. Respect their time, listen, and give them the balance of attention and space they deserve.
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes to determine what the best experience might be. This type of reverse engineering develops customer-centric practices and helps your dealership team stand out.
Delivering consistently excellent customer service starts with having a process in place that your team follows every time. Finding the right balance of personal attention without seeming pushy may seem tricky. It boils down to letting them know you are available and there to help.
Position Yourself as a Trustworthy & Experienced Resource
With today’s knowledgeable shoppers, it’s crucial that your entire sales team knows more than your customers.
Information and product details are readily available online. Anyone can find them. What customers cannot find online is knowledge and expertise. Salespeople should stay current on pricing, variations, and features. Customers expect sales consultants to have the expertise to compare vehicles and available add-ons.
People trust others who show genuine interest in them. Center your process around listening to the customer. Be there to answer their questions and solve their problems. Rise above the competition by being as helpful as possible. After all, you can’t go wrong by being useful.
For most people, buying a car is a big, exciting, and important event. To a sales consultant who sells cars every day, it can become mundane. Tap into the customer’s excitement and remember, for them, it’s a special experience.
Don’t Be Afraid to Brag
Social proof — like awards and testimonials — is a powerful sales tool. You may be providing an outstanding customer experience, but shoppers might not know it. You can assure buyers that you’re trustworthy, but they won’t necessarily believe it. Reports from happy customers and business-to-business recognition is proof.
Trust is a vital part of every purchasing decision. For dealerships and sales consultants, earning customer trust can be an uphill battle. Social proof creates a bridge of trust. If you’ve won it — display it.
Nothing builds an emotional connection like a good story. Tell your dealership’s story. Create introduction videos for salespeople to share their stories. Invite satisfied customers to tell their stories. The more you communicate and share, the more your customers will trust you.
Customers Expect More
Customers expect more and more from their automotive dealership. Dealerships have limited control over vehicle stock and pricing. Their real point of leverage is in providing an excellent customer experience.
Time is the ultimate luxury. Viewing the sales process through the customer’s eyes builds long-lasting relationships. Social proof and excellent service create word-of-mouth advocates for your dealership.
We are moving into an era of new mobility, both through the Internet and through rideshare. Dealers today have an opportunity to position themselves as indispensable mobility managers. They do so by creating a welcoming environment, catering the experience to the customer, and training salespeople to be experts. The habit of seeing the relationship through the customer’s eyes and making it as pleasant as possible will position you for any future the retail automotive industry has in store.