Last week Sonic Automotive, the fourth largest dealership group in the US launched EchoPark, a new automotive experience focused on selling pre-owned vehicles. Their first store is in the Denver market of Thornton. In a world where pretty much every company is striving to differentiate on the customer experience, Sonic is a shining example of how to truly accomplish this goal.
Starting with the name and as you enter the store, EchoPark doesn’t feel like any car retailer you’ve ever seen. If you didn’t know there was a huge lot full of cars or a service area that you could see right into, you’d think you were transported to the Apple store, a Starbucks or even a Four Seasons.
EchoPark has introduced many new features and details that customers are not used to seeing in automotive dealerships, including:
- An Imagine Bar that features iPads and a 42-foot long video wall. You sit at in front of an iPad and can do research on vehicles EchoPark offers or any other automotive website, including competitors. Sonic clearly realized that customers are going to do extensive searching online, including searching competitive sites while in the dealership, with or without their imagine bar. That’s what smartphones have done for the consumer. Sonic concluded they should support, rather than resist customers’ desire and make their experience that much better.
- A Drive-in Appraisal Booth, where a customer can bring their car in and stay with the appraiser as they inspect and appraise the vehicle. The customer is able to see the whole process and get a complete understanding of how the process works and why a certain value was attached to their vehicle. They may still get a price that is lower than they thought, but if they understand how it was developed and why, they may still be disappointed but less likely to feel that EchoPark is trying to cheat them.
- A Wide Open, Comfortable Environment with couches and comfy chairs instead of boxy private offices that seem more like an interrogation room than a place where a customer wants to enter into the 2nd most important purchase after a home. Mobile technology frees sales people from having to be tied to a desk. The environment helps to make conversations less stressful and friendlier.
- Greater Service Transparency by using a using a glass wall to separate the customer waiting area from the service facility, including a station where children can “talk to the tech” to find out what they are doing. Customers no longer have to worry about what’s going on in the back with their vehicle, they can see for themselves.
These are just a few of the innovative approaches the Sonic has taken with EchoPark. What they have done is a lesson to those companies that seek to amp up their own customer experience. In designing and building EchoPark, Sonic has…
- Killed some sacred cows
- Borrowed from innovative retail environments outside of the auto industry.
- Embraced technology tools
- Let customers have more control
Perhaps the fact that EchoPark is a brand new concept makes undertaking this kind of customer experience transformation more doable. However, it doesn’t mean these same lessons can’t be applied to a long established business. After all, would it really be a surprise to know that auto customers don’t like the appraisal process or often feel left in the dark? Is anyone really questioning whether customers have access to more information that gives them greater control?
It’s not a question of knowledge of what needs to be changed, but rather be willing to take on the challenge and getting the organization working together to make it happen. Ask yourself four simple questions:
- Are there obvious, long-standing customer frustrations with your industry? Things that people in your organization and among competitors would say that have always been done the same way. Figure out how you can change the game. If you don’t someone else will.
- Have you looked at leaders in customer experience in other industries to learn from what they do? Look to industry leaders that clearly and perennially differentiate themselves like Starbucks, Apple, Four Seasons, Costco, USAA, Southwest Airlines, etc. If you can’t find anything that might be applicable to your business, you are not looking hard enough.
- How can you (continue to) integrate technology to enhance your customer experience? Technological innovation is moving at a torrid pace and will only accelerate. Whether it is an app, website features, tools in your channels or some other innovation, there are many opportunities to innovate. Don’t ever be satisfied that you’ve done enough.
- What are your customers doing with technology that you would like to push back on? If there is anything you can identify in answer to this question, consider flipping the script. Figure out how you can embrace what the customer is doing and align it with choosing you as their brand of choice.
Can you think of other long standing companies in their industry that have transformed the customer experience? Have they successfully addressed the questions above?