Even before COVID-19, service customers wanted speed and convenience, and dealers were struggling to give it to them. One reason: Their facilities were already crowded.
Extended hours or facility upgrades can alleviate cramped spaces, but it helps to look at the entire end-user experience holistically, says Ryan Stancill, a principal at Praxis3 architects, of Atlanta. Good customer experiences, he says, are the result of "focusing on efficiency and aligning business processes with better layouts."
Nicer lounges and more bays help, but experience improvements are made in the intake and checkout processes, which form first and last impressions.
"Many popular-brand dealers want to put service advisers right on the drive," Stancill says, as it speeds the intake process and removes roadblocks to doing proper inspections.
Manufacturers have historically wanted advisers in air-conditioned spaces, as they're more comfortable for customers and boost adviser productivity. But those locations are often set apart from the drive-up area in older shops, creating a barrier and extra steps. Busy customers don't necessarily want to walk into the building to find somebody to help them.
One way to make all parties partly happy is another relatively new trend: fully enclosed drives with high-speed doors. "That means you can air-condition the whole drive," Stancill says. The downside is that customers see closed doors from afar.
Once customers are greeted by advisers, Stancill says, there are differing approaches to setting up physical space for their journeys.
"Generally, premium cars have slower and more intimate processes for interacting with customers," leading to more officelike setups at luxury brand stores. Mass-market brands, however, need a combination of speed and customer care.
A growing number of dealers, Stancill says, are using podiums and open-plan desks so advisers can show customers the full process of putting together their repair order on a screen.
"I've learned that selling from behind the desk puts a wall between you and the customer," says Robert Luongo, service director at Boniface Hiers Kia in Melbourne, Fla.
Last November, the dealership moved to a new facility with a two-lane drive and open-plan desks facing the drive behind a glass barrier.
"They can immediately see a customer, and if they're busy, the customer can immediately see them," Luongo says.
In the changeover, the dealership switched to stand-up desks where customers can be greeted and monitors can swivel.
"If you can be next to them and show them exactly what you're talking about, including taking them out to the shop, if possible, that's going to build a bond with the customer and make them feel like they're on a level playing field," Luongo says.
Though the facility is still new, the results were immediate. "On the first four business days of December, we were able to process a little over 100 more customer-pay tickets than we did on those same days in 2019," he says.
Those tickets also were more valuable.
"We've seen an increase of two-tenths of an hour per repair order in the new facility," he adds, despite having raised prices with the move.
Luongo feels that easier and faster service experiences for customers will be even more of a market differentiator in the future.
"We already see fewer major repairs than we used to, and we'll soon have a line of EVs," he says. "The more efficient you are at capturing the services people need, the more of them you'll get."