Everyone wants to have a great purchase-and-ownership experience. And the more that something costs, the greater the expectations. The fact is, however, the experience doesn’t always match or even come close to what’s expected, and that negatively impacts sales and brand loyalty. That’s why the next truth in our 12 truths in business is: The experience at the dealership should be just as inspired and inspiring as the product and technology that is being sold and serviced there. If customer experiences are falling short of this goal, there are many ways retail locations and the manufacturers of the products they sell and service can transform the customer experience for the better.

What does a manufacturer do if the people representing and selling its products often can’t afford the products themselves and don’t fully understand or believe in the brand? This was the challenge Volvo Cars faced at a time when luxury vehicle sales were surging, but their own sales numbers remained stagnant. While the brand was well-known for its safety performance, it ranked low for customer service due to low engagement levels among sales and service staff around the country. To reach its ambitious sales goals, Volvo needed to improve the customer experience at the retailer level.

It required a mindset shift that needed to start from inside the company and then spread to its sales network. The solution was a companywide customer experience program aimed at instilling pride among employees through storytelling and hands-on experiences. Using a series of workshops, in-person training events, web-based learning, gamified activities and technology tools, Volvo achieved a networkwide culture shift. It gave dealership employees the foundation they needed to deliver inspiring experiences and resulted in an extraordinary 68-point jump in the J.D. Power Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) after the program was delivered.

The customer experience is not only driven by those who work at retail locations, but the purchase experience itself. For example, as vehicle design and technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, the purchase experience at the dealership has, for the most part, remained the same. There are opportunities to transform the purchase process that can help dealerships earn more sales and create inspiring experiences.

The Future of Digital Retail Study recently released by Cox Automotive reveals 83% of consumers want to complete at least part of a vehicle transaction online before they arrive at a dealership. Their levels of satisfaction with the amount of time spent in a dealership dropped from 55% in 2016 to 46% in 2018. By front-loading some of the negotiation and completing certain purchase steps ahead of time, customers hope to pave the way to a more pleasant experience. Dealerships that offer this opportunity to consumers will have a distinct advantage. According to the study, 85% of consumers are more likely to buy from a dealership where the purchase process can be started online.

As more customers research products online before making purchase decisions, their time at a retail location should be more experiential than informational. From the layout of the store to using technologies like augmented and virtual reality to show hidden features of the products, retail experiences need to arouse the senses and connect the customer with the brand and product.

Opportunities to deliver inspiring experiences will increase within customer service departments as more of the sales process goes online. For example, automotive dealerships have already made improvements to their service experience, such as adding dedicated drives for routine maintenance like oil changes and tire rotations. Realizing the service experience starts with making the appointment, these additional drives reduce customer wait times, a key factor in satisfaction ratings. Every touchpoint in customer service is an occasion to deliver experiences that inspire confidence, satisfaction and loyalty.

Retail locations that look for ways to evolve the sales and service experience and personalize it to the customer’s needs will truly inspire. From ensuring employees are trained and believe in the product they’re selling and servicing to evolving the sales process, opportunities to inspire are there for the taking.

BARRY LABOV, a two-time Ernst & Young entrepreneur of the year and inductee into the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, is founder, president and CEO of LABOV Marketing Communications and Training in Fort Wayne. He has written and co-authored more than a dozen business books and is a regular columnist in business publications.

BARRY LABOV, a two-time Ernst & Young entrepreneur of the year and inductee into the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, is founder, president and CEO of LABOV Marketing Communications and Training in Fort Wayne. He has written and co-authored more than a dozen business books and is a regular columnist in business publications.

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