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I spent several hours recently in an auto dealer’s service unit waiting room — the first time that has happened in quite a few years. (Thanks, trusty little white hatchback!) It was an interesting opportunity to observe what has changed — and what has not — in the service lounge experience.

Gone was the dim, cramped windowless room with rigid molded plastic seats and ratty magazines. The spacious, well-lit open area featured nicer upholstered armchairs, a large-screen TV, free Wi-Fi and a modest coffee set-up complete with bowl of free packaged snacks.

That all aligns with what customers say they want, according to a 2017 JD Power survey. Older motorists prefer the free coffee and TV, while the younger generations want Internet access while they hang out near the repair bays.   

But as the minutes and then hours ticked by, my phone battery grew weaker and the novelty of the a.m. talk shows quickly waned, I started to ponder. 

According to JD Power, 64 percent of people wait while their car is being repaired — more than I would’ve imagined. And per the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), the nation’s dealerships have written more than 155 million repair orders in 2018, with service and parts sales of more than $58 billion.

That seems like a pretty large captive audience, and one worth a bit more of an effort than Wi-Fi and a granola bar.

Nine of us were sitting and pacing there throughout the morning, which was a total of about 25 people-hours just going to waste. Yet never did any sales representatives — who were for the most part devoid of customers that morning — stop by and greet any of the service patrons, let alone offer information or assistance. You’d think people who at the moment, at least, may have been mildly dissatisfied with their current vehicle, would be prime targets for a sales spiel, but none were forthcoming.

At one point, bored, I went out and roamed the showroom — but no reps broke off their personal conversations to approach. Reseated in the lounge area — which was a bit chilly and noisy due to its respective proximity to an outer door and cashier — I disgruntledly pondered the lack of phone-charging outlets, the limited beverage menu and the unhealthy snacks. Political commercials played between the yapping of the talk show hosts and there wasn’t much else to do. 

I started trying to remember how old my car’s battery was and how long they last these days, and whether my brakes were fit for winter. 

“If this were my shop,” I thought, “I’d put out brochures about new vehicles, or maybe even pass around iPads with snazzy new-car videos and images on them. Or leaflets with winter safety tips or instructions on how to maintain brakes — or something! I’m going stir-crazy here and I’m open to suggestions.”

It just seemed like, between the two of us, the dealership and I could’ve made better use of my time than reading the weather websites and checking Pinterest on a faltering cell phone battery.

At some auto retailers, they do. Some cutting-edge waiting rooms have chains like Starbucks or Subway, or even kiosks from phone dealers so you can update your smartphone or otherwise take care of business while your car is being worked on, said Will Worosylla, president of Phoenix, Arizona-based AutoVision TV. 

I found the company via a web search after zipping home with my freshly fixed vehicle; it installs custom video channels for businesses like auto retailers. 

At some clients, for example, he installs a digital announcement screen that congratulates purchasers as they are taking delivery of their new car. Other dealers want to feature multiple screens showing marketing videos about their ancillary services, or educational tips about routine maintenance. 

 “In a waiting lounge there is a huge opportunity to entertain your clients while also branding your dealership, promoting your services and standing out from competitors,” he said, adding that “dealers need to try to think like their customers do."

Hmm, I thought — massage and pedicure while the hatchback is on the hoist?

Not quite — but Worosylla has indeed created a custom “tranquil” channel in a dim quiet room, where patrons can doze in cozy recliners while soothing spa-style music and calming images play. Now that’s a really refreshing way to spend enforced idleness!

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer.  Reach her via Melissa@MelissaPreddy.com.

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