For customer satisfaction, dealers should heed Amazon

Industry

Brian Benstock thinks dealerships are looking at customer satisfaction the wrong way.

Too often, he says, the auto retail industry benchmarks itself by measuring one dealership against other dealerships. But Benstock, general manager of Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura in New York, argues that comparison doesn’t offer a true gauge of how a customer’s experience stacks up against other consumer experiences.

What if instead, brands compared their dealership experience to, for instance, the last purchase they made on Amazon?

“Everyone’s a customer, and they’re experiencing the world of Amazon and Apple and Google. And then they come to the dealer,” Benstock told Automotive News last month during CES in Las Vegas. “We say, ‘Hey, don’t compare us to them — compare us to us.’ And it’s not fair.

“I think if we started looking at that — changing the ruler, changing the measurement — we’d start making really significant progress.”

To improve the dealership experience, Benstock’s Paragon stores have embraced technology, from offering vehicle pickup and drop-off for service appointments to a partnership with Google Assistant that rolled out in 2018. A new sales model that allows virtual customer financing and home delivery of vehicles within 100 miles of the dealerships — at no extra cost — has been in beta testing for about a year and is expected to launch publicly this quarter.

Benstock, 59, talked to Automotive News about how technology can help improve customers’ experience, and why the industry as a whole needs to focus on it. Here are edited excerpts.

With pickup and delivery, we’ve taken the “how long” out of the equation. And today, time is more valuable than money to everybody. Not just executives, to everybody. And so when we have your car, and you get a text and we show you a picture — “Here are your old brakes, here are new brakes. Would you like to buy some?” — there’s very little resistance to that.

A, we’re providing transparency. B, if we’re going to do it, it’s not going to interrupt your time at all. And C, we’re going to do it at a competitive price. So customers say, “I might as well get it done.” Whereas, if you’re there already an hour and you’ve got 75 things you want to do, you say, “I’ll get it done later.” But when you get it done later, maybe you’ll go to an independent. You’ll go to wherever it’s easiest for you to get it done.

We wanted to make that us — to make it easiest for us, so we can take the business from the independents.

Why did Kodak not invent Instagram? Why did a couple of kids from Silicon Valley come up with that platform? Kodak was entrenched in their business model, which was paper and film. This story’s been repeated over and over again. Why didn’t Blockbuster embrace Netflix — you know, taking the friction out of going to the Blockbuster stores?

Are we not in the same place right now? Dealers are hanging on to, “Come to my store. You’ve got to come to me to do business.” But customers are going to do what’s in their intelligent self-interest, all the time. Once they have a better opportunity, they are going to go to the other business model.

The smart money is on dealers looking at what they’re doing daily. Almost everything you do, you can do from the cellphone today. It is an absolute miracle, yet dealers are slow to have most of their dealer services put on the cellphone to make it easy for customers to do business.

BDCs are still asking customers to come on in. We’re still trying to set an appointment. And when you call the average service department, you’re told the next appointment is next week. Imagine if you called Amazon to buy something and they said next week.

If you’re looking to use technology in your dealership and it does not enhance the customer experience or the employee experience, then it’s not an effective use of technology.

What if the best reinvention of the sales process is its elimination? What if it’s a simple point-click-and-deliver? Why does a 10-step sales process have to take three and a half hours?

Customers have already seen all the things that they can buy on the phone without going through that. It’s amazing how long things take, and shocking how fast they could happen. And I think that’s what we’re experiencing here.

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