February 18, 2013 - Page 66
Reinventing the Showroom
Drivers love Audis; it's the dealers they loathe. Enter Continuum, a design firm whose goal is a better shopping experience, not prettier products.
Audi has a problem. It isn’t sales; the cars practically sell themselves. The brand, stalled in the mid-1990s, is now the fastest-growing luxury automaker in the U.S. While still behind such peers as Lexus, Mercedes, and BMW in total unit sales domestically, Audi is coming off 24 straight record months. The trouble is, few drivers come back. Only 46 percent of Audi drivers buy another Audi, compared with other German imports who lure over 55 percent of their customers back.
In September, Audi of America President Scott Keogh began visiting dealers around the country, telling them he attributed the low numbers partly to the dealership experience, and that he wanted to focus on customer service. The dealerships ranked second to last in the U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index. Audis routinely win accolades for their seamlessly updated mapping and telematics packages, yet in car showrooms, young, affluent buyers entering a dealership have been greeted with a Bunn drip coffee machine and a crackling PA system. “We’re not satisfied with what the customer service experience is like in our retail environment. At dealers today, people encounter a lot of unknowns, a lot of waiting, bottlenecks,” says Mark Ramsey, the general manager of digital and retail marketing for Audi of America.
If Audi doesn’t solve the dealership disconnect, the company’s rise could be a blip. A 2012 study from consumer marketing analyst Maritz Research found that the average car dealership could sell as many as 217 additional cars per year by improving customer service. So last year, Ramsey went shopping among the small number of design firms in the world that specialize in so-called service design, which emphasizes not just the aesthetics of a product but the actual process of buying it. He found just two in the U.S. and two abroad, and tapped Newton (Mass.)-based Continuum to make over Audi dealerships.
Full article at link.