Written by Darren Slind and Dr. Gordon Shields
The automotive world can learn a lot from how other industries consistently deliver amazing guest experiences.
Six years into my career, I made a significant pivot—from Xerox and the world of office printers to automotive when I joined the Infiniti division of Nissan Canada.
Although I loved my time at Xerox and the incredible sales mentors I learned from, I didn’t have a passion for the sector. What that pivot ultimately taught me was how transferable skills and experiences are across industries.
So, despite my three decades immersed in automotive, and Dr. Gordon Shields’ experience across a host of industries, we both jumped at the opportunity to learn about the world of luxury hospitality and how it applies to our industry.
One of our clients, a rapidly growing luxury automotive brand, challenged us to help them create and consistently deliver a best-in-class luxury experience, not simply a great luxury automotive experience.
We got to work studying the characteristics of luxury.
We conducted a large-scale social listening research study1 examining the voices of nearly 400,000 global luxury consumers and were invited to present the results at the 2023 Forbes Travel Guide Summit in Las Vegas (the NADA of the hotel industry).
Our research found six emerging trends in the luxury hospitality sector—from the receptivity of affluent travellers for local and sustainable cuisine to the desire for authentic, immersive local experiences.
Luxury hotels are adept at providing highlypersonalized experiences for each guest using their knowledge of guest preferences to anticipate and proactively deliver unique experiences. They treat each guest as a “segment of one”.
While sustainable cuisine may not have carry-over potential for dealers, one of the luxury trends we found certainly does: the accelerating importance of hyper-personalization—the idea that each customer is unique with distinct tastes and preferences.
Luxury hotels are adept at providing highly-personalized experiences for each guest using their knowledge of guest preferences to anticipate and proactively deliver unique experiences. They treat each guest as a “segment of one”.
In a mature automotive market like Canada, brand growth requires taking share from competitors. It’s the size of each slice, not the size of the pie, that matters most.
And how do we take share in a market where most OEMs design and build high quality vehicles? A differentiated customer experience. And this is where auto dealers, premium and volume brands alike, can take a page from luxury hospitality brands.
All dealers strive to provide good service, but how embedded is the idea of personalized service in the culture and processes of each store?
Do our team members strive to deliver the highest level of service at all times? Demands of a busy dealership can impede execution, so we looked at leading practices from luxury hospitality to guide us on how to establish new processes and change behaviours to enhance the customer experience.
It starts with understanding how customer expectations are formed — from being directed to a dedicated parking space at a retailer, being recognised and offered a preferred table, aperitif or dessert at your favourite restaurant, to enjoying (and expecting) the comfort, priority service and lounge experience of a business class flight.
Highly customer-focussed businesses use processes to deliver, and technology to track customer preferences, that not only anticipate their requirements but also deliver services even before the customer knows they need them (think of having large golf-style umbrellas near the service department and showrooms doors for example).
Examples from hospitality are plentiful including the “we’re looking forward to welcoming you” pre-check-in request letter or email message (The Lanesbourgh in London excels at this), asking guests for their room preferences—everything from the preferred pillow type, fruits, drinks and flowers they enjoy most, allergies to be aware of, to the name and needs of their travelling pet.
Hospitality processes like this are designed to identify customer needs in advance. In our auto retail world, this approach can be transferred directly to service appointments and new vehicle test drives. For example, asking prospective customers how long they wish to experience the vehicle on a test drive, which routes would they like to take (highways, city streets etc.), and their preference for sales consultant accompaniment or an unaccompanied experience.
Dealers can adopt a more personalized approach at new vehicle delivery by asking customers in advance what areas of the vehicle they most want to learn about and how much time they would like to spend during the handover. This level of personalization is especially important for new EV owners, many of whom are learning about the nuances of electrified vehicles for the first time.
One of the easiest and most impactful hospitality best practices relates to how customers are greeted on arrival. In a hotel, it is not uncommon for multiple guests to arrive at the check-in counter simultaneously. Next time this happens to you, notice how the front desk staff manage the queue. In the best hotels, the agent makes a point of smiling and making eye contact with every waiting guest. No words are spoken, the visual connection is enough to make each guest feel acknowledged and valued, and serves to reset their ‘time in the queue clock’. Think of the impact that such a small but cost-free gesture will have in your busy service department on a weekday morning or in the showroom on a busy Saturday.
Leading hotels make a point of “beating the greet” with every guest, no matter where in the hotel (our friends at Forbes Travel Guide use this concept in their hotel training programs). Guests are acknowledged with a smile and a friendly “Good Morning” when any hotel staff member comes within 3 metres of a guest in a public area. Imagine how our customers will feel when they receive the same acknowledgement and hospitality from our staff—on the lot, in the showroom, and in the service department. Cost? Zero. Impact? Significant. Customers feel welcome and your dealership differentiates itself from others.
Adapting luxury hotel practices may initially feel uncomfortable for dealership staff. We’ve seen this first hand in our onsite coaching programs. The biggest barrier? Awareness. Dealers tend to train staff to deliver processes without fully considering how we want our customers to feel at each of the touchpoints in the vehicle purchase and servicing journey.
A big part of our training and coaching programs involves putting team members in the customer’s shoes. Once our teams realize the power of delivering a customer-centric rather than a dealer-centric experience, the returns in staff engagement and customer satisfaction metrics are impressive. We evolve from a transactional experience to cultivating a long-term relationship with each customer. The view shifts from ‘this deal’ to ‘lifetime value’.
Successful auto retailers are learning that most service enhancements offered by luxury hospitality brands don’t come at great cost, if at all. Changing staff behaviours is about learning new skills and embedding them into present activities, a mindset rather than an expenditure.
A big part of the fun in supporting an ever changing automotive industry is proving that older dogs are perfectly capable of learning new tricks.
1 Emerging Trends in Luxury Hospitality Report, Clarify Group Inc., March 2023
About Darren Slind and Dr. Gordon Shields
Darren Slind is Co-Founder and Managing Director, Clarify Group Inc. and a respected auto industry analyst. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org Dr. Gordon Shields is the Founder and Managing Director of Angus MacBride Research Consultancy, based in Dundee, Scotland, specializing in new mobility and customer experience research and advisory. Dr. Shields is also a strategic partner of Clarify Group Inc. in Canada.