Luxury vehicle buyers want service -- not just repairs done right, but the kind of pampering they get at high-end hotels, restaurants and boutiques. It's all about the extras.
In response, luxury vehicle brands are stepping up their games, rolling out unprecedented customer service, training staff and reconfiguring showrooms to cater to these buyers. The changes come as luxury sales gain steam with the auto industry's recovery in the United States.
"There's no such thing as a bad luxury car anymore," said Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. "Our customers have such high expectations, and 'I had a decent service or sales experience' does not cut it in the competitive luxury business."
"It is not just about putting out a big pile of money in incentives and showering them with gifts and flowers on their birthday. It is like the Ritz-Carlton or luxury experience where they feel special -- that is what we are trying to do," said Cannon, whose company launched the Customer One training program this year for all dealership employees.
Peter Miles, vice president of operations for BMW of North America, said his company is about to roll out a new dealership standard that will transform showrooms to mimic retailers such as Apple: "There is no question premium customers expect a premium experience," he said.
"With any premium product, the experience the consumer has -- whether they are learning about it or testing it -- has to match the product."
Lexus dealers near airports often provide free parking and shuttle service to the airport while an owner's vehicle gets serviced or cleaned, says Nancy Hubbell, Lexus prestige communications manager. Dealers also offer Saturday breakfasts with free car washes, free up-close parking for Lexus owners at crowded events and owner events where they review technology, maintenance or other issues.
What dealers choose to do "depends on the dealership and what resonates in their community," Hubbell said.
For the past few years, General Motors has stepped up its focus on customer service for Cadillac. Ritz-Carlton service specialists have schooled Cadillac executives and dealers on the finer points of the luxury experience.
Last month GM started what it calls Cadillac University, a 2 1/2-day training program for dealers that imparts insights on values and attitudes of luxury customers.
Cadillac requires dealers to staff at least one technology expert dedicated to helping customers navigate their infotainment systems and device connections. GM gives buyers of new XTS and ATS sedans iPads with an app that mimics Cadillac's new Cadillac User Experience, or CUE, infotainment system.
And Porsche Cars North America is building a test track, museum and other features at its new headquarters in Atlanta. The company also is adding a Los Angeles brand center that includes a restaurant and a display of Porsche race cars.
"The vision is brand experience, if you want to differentiate and make the brand unique," said Detlev von Platen, CEO of Porsche Cars North America.