Acura Works to Enhance Customer Experience

LOS ANGELES – Acura often touts its R&D prowess resulting in vehicles with advanced technology, such as the upcoming ’16 NSX super car.

But Honda’s luxury brand is stepping up efforts to enhance things on the other end of the automotive spectrum: the customer dealership experience.

“You can spend billions of dollars on R&D, manufacturing and (marketing), but not concentrate as much on the client experience,” says Chuck Kendig, Acura’s assistant vice president-parts and service.

Shopping patterns have changed, largely because of the Internet, making customer engagement that much more important, he says at the annual Automotive Customer Centricity Summit here. “We’re trying to figure out how to deal with the new reality and still make money.”

Despite the growth of Internet car shopping, the brick-and-mortar dealership itself is where everything comes together. That involves the “importance of place to affirm a brand choice,” Kendig says. “It is nearly universal for premium brands.”

Acura has begun a pilot program that provides dealership training and support to enhance “client care,” he says. “It is not a complicated model” and came about after the automaker sent process specialists to dealerships to evaluate how things were done.

The project focuses on engaging with shoppers, working with known expectations and respecting customer time. If a consumer has done online homework and is at stage seven upon reaching the dealership, “put me at stage eight, not back to three,” Kendig says.

The improvement plan extends to the service department. “People value time and convenience, so, make it easy for me to give you my money,” he says. “Don’t make me wait for basic service, and don’t overcharge for it.”

The automaker urges service departments to make greater use of customer-relationship-management software systems that contain databases of contact information and purchase histories. “Before, CRM was basically used for selling vehicles,” says Kendig.

Acura says its dealerships can make more money by offering express service for light repairs and maintenance work, such as oil changes.

Many mainstream brands such as Ford and Chevrolet added that service at dealerships years ago. Acura is playing catch-up.

“Without accelerated services, you lose money and customers,” Kendig says. “People are not paying crazy money for basic maintenance, and they’re not making appointments for oil changes.”

About that highly anticipated NSX. It is expected to cost about $150,000 and will serve as a halo vehicle that emotionally connects people to the brand.

Dealerships can leverage that connection, even if it is with people who can’t afford to buy an NSX.

“You can convert them to a car they can afford,” Kendig says of targeted digital marketing efforts using the likes of pop-up ads.

For example, if an online consumer configures a red NSX with a black interior, “we can pop up a TLX that’s red with a black interior.” The TLX costs about $115,000 less than the NSX will.    

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