It’s easy to be hard on car dealers, and considering some of the stuff that they do, a lot of it is well-deserved. Whether it’s lying about added fees, aggressively pushing unnecessary add-ons, or pretending that Tesla’s direct sales model is a serious threat to the American family, car dealers engage in some pretty sketchy practices. They’re also known for ignoring young people, taking advantage of women, and charging minorities more for the same vehicle, generally making the dealership experience a bad one.
While dealers’ bad reputation is mostly their own fault, only covering the negative side of things would be unfair to the dealers who are actively working to run honest, ethical operations. It’s not just individual dealers who are working on improving the dealership experience, either. Automakers also care about improving their customers’ experiences. As proof of that, Lexus is launching a program for its dealers called Lexus Difference that’s aimed at educating them on how to attract millennials, minorities, and women.
Lexus had originally planned on launching three separate programs that would train dealers to better attract each of those demographics, but it found that focusing on women was so successful at attracting the other demographics, only one program was needed. While Lexus Difference is not mandatory for Lexus dealers to participate in, after an early trial run, the company expects 90% of its dealers to sign up. With so many dealers instituting these new practices, it’s only a matter of time before Lexus Difference is just part of the Lexus dealership experience.
What exactly is it that Lexus believes will make its dealerships more attractive to women? Part of it involves making small changes to improve the overall feel of the building itself. Instead of offering donuts and piles of old magazines in the lobby, fresh fruit and a few current magazines are offered instead. The television is tuned to HGTV instead of ESPN or the news. Uniforms are updated and more modern. There’s even a new Lexus signature scent that gets sprayed, just like in the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons. Add it all together, and you have a building that’s much more inviting to walk into than before for women.
Lexus isn’t just trying to create an approachable environment at its dealerships, though. It wants to change the way its service and salespeople interact with younger, female, or minority customers. Mostly, that involves ensuring those customers are treated with respect and made to feel welcome.
Salespeople are expected to focus on speaking to women first, instead of assuming that men are the ones making the decisions. Part of that has to do with making sure women feel included, but it’s also partly due to the fact that women have a large amount of influence in the decision-making process. Even if a woman isn’t the one making the purchasing decision, she’s still going to have influence. The company estimates that women’s influence on purchasing decisions is as high as 80%. Making the people with 80% of the influence feel left out of the interaction is not good for sales, no matter what they’re purchasing.
Being respectful also extends to other courtesies, like greeting women by shaking their hands and taking care not to inappropriately stare at them when they walk into the dealership. The more dealerships can work to make women feel comfortable and included, the more likely they are to not only buy a vehicle but bring it to be serviced more frequently. For the dealerships that have implemented the program, it appears to be working well. It may take a little time to make the transition, but considering the high take rate, Lexus dealers are clearly interested in making changes that will help them sell more cars.
A lot of the changes that Lexus wants its dealers to make are simple and sound like common sense, but considering how poorly most people’s dealership experiences go, it’s refreshing to see a major car company use its influence to institute widespread changes across its entire dealership network instead of trying to get by with a few events and more targeted ads. Hopefully more companies will see the success that Lexus is having and push for similar changes at their dealerships.
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