Wow factor catches on in auto retailing

Donna Harris covers automotive retailing for Automotive News
The buzz term “customer experience” has been creeping into titles, job descriptions and corporate strategy in many retail businesses.

A quick online search shows T-Mobile of Bellevue, Wash., advertising for a “senior customer experience manager,” Fifth Third Bank of Cincinnati seeking a “customer experience manager,” and Gap clothing stores in several markets looking for “assistant customer experience managers.” There’s even a hospital that has a “patient experience manager.”

Now I’m starting to see this term turn up in the auto retail world.

For example, Jennifer Silverberg, with Atlanta service contract provider Automobile Protection Corp., is vice president of marketing and customer experience.

And, though you don’t see it in Rachel Richards’ title -- she’s vice president of retail strategy -- it’s part of her job description at Sonic Automotive Inc. Sonic, the nation’s third-largest auto retailer, is revamping the customer experience over the next few years.

So what does this mean exactly? CBS News’ BNET Web site describes the “customer experience” trend as a drive to “understand customers to such an extent that you deliver designed, differentiated experiences so fantastic that people stay with you, return to you and introduce you to everyone they meet.”

To paraphrase: You get inside their heads to wow them.

In the last decade, many car dealers have upgraded customer service. This focus on customer experience will fine-tune those advances.