Steve Cannon wants to make service visits to Mercedes-Benz dealerships more like shopping at an Apple Store.
Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, has the Apple customer service experience in mind as he expands a new digital initiative in the service drive at the brand's 370 U.S. dealerships.
"The auto industry is notoriously slow in moving itself into the digital world," Cannon said. "You can go into an Apple Store and walk out having spent $1,000 and not even feel like you bought anything. You've got product people who take care of everything right in front of you. It's just so painless."
Cannon wants Mercedes-Benz dealerships to provide their service customers a similar experience. The Digital Service Drive initiative was announced to dealers a year ago and rolled out in a pilot phase. Now, it has spread to 100 dealerships, and Cannon says he aims for all U.S. dealerships to adopt the program by the end of 2016.
Mercedes-Benz described the Digital Service Drive initiative as a "multimillion-dollar program."
When the plan was introduced to dealers, Mercedes-Benz USA told them the automaker would cover the cost of dealership installation and training if they enrolled in 2015. It's unclear whether that financial assistance is being extended into 2016. When asked, Mercedes-Benz said only that this year's training will be followed by a second phase in 2016.
The Digital Service Drive includes:
- Tablet reception in the service drive. A customer checking in for an appointment does a vehicle walkaround with a service adviser using a tablet that's integrated with the store's dealer management system.
- Online service appointments. Customers can skip the voicemails and phone tag and set up appointments online, even after hours.
- Digital payment. The customer checks out with the service adviser, paying online through the tablet.
"You stay right with one person," Cannon said. "You're not going to stand in line to talk to a cashier who doesn't know anything about the transaction -- and then you have a question and have to go back to the service adviser."
Being bounced from the cashier to the service adviser that way, or even not being able to set up a service visit online, is aggravating to customers who are used to dealing with one attentive person at an Apple Store, Cannon said.
"We've got to find a way to keep pace with that," he said. "If you can't make an online appointment in a dealership, there's a disconnect."