Lindsey Duffield believes in equality when it comes to VIP treatment for car buyers.

Everyone deserves A-list treatment at Jaguar and Land Rover dealerships, says Duffield, president of Canadian operations for the paired-up premium brands.

“I’m not a proponent of ‘Titanium customers line up here and bronze customers line up there,’ because every Jaguar and Land Rover customer is special,” he says.

Today’s car buyers expect A-list customer service. That’s true even at mainstream dealerships, but it’s sacrosanct at luxury-brand stores.

“Respect them if they are young, old or in between,” says Al Parajeckas, general manager of Crevier BMW & Mini in Santa Ana, CA. “It is about helping and finding out needs.”

Like virtually all dealerships, Crevier wants buy-now customers. “But if they don’t buy a car that day, we want them to have a great experience,” Parajeckas says. “We take care of them well when they are at the dealership, and then follow up and follow up. I can’t overemphasize the importance of staying in touch.” 

Parajeckas, Duffield and others spoke at a recent Thought Leadership Summit session, “Creating Differentiated Customer Experiences in the Dealership.”

How a dealership treats customers shapes brand perception, Duffield says. “I don’t distinguish between the dealership and the OEM, because customers at dealerships assume they’re dealing with the brand.”

As one of the world’s top-selling BMW stores, Crevier tries to stand out by “building a brand within a brand,” says Parajeckas.

The dealership is No.6 on the WardsAuto Dealer 500. Since 2011, it has been owned by the Penske Automotive Group, No.2 on the WardsAuto Megadealer 100.

The late Bob Crevier founded the store in 1971. BMW now is a major luxury-brand player but back then it was a niche brand with modest sales, yet avid owners. Crevier, a Volkswagen car salesman who really wanted to buy a VW franchise, settled for BMW because it was less expensive at the time. In retrospect, it worked out well for him.

Parajeckas began his career as a service writer and then became a service-department director. He joined Crevier in 2006. In addition to his store general-manager duties, he is a Penske area vice president.

Backshop operations remain near and dear to him. They’re a big part of Crevier’s business. “We have 63 technicians and 200 cars a day in the service drive,” he says. “We have 300 loaner cars for service customers, and tout that fact when we’re selling cars.”

Superior service stems from staffers who “play well together and really take care of the customer,” Parajeckas says. “It comes down to people, and not necessarily the smartest people. If that were the case, we’d have a room full of engineers.”

Every customer is unique and therefore requires personalized treatment, says Tracy Riazzi, director-customer service development for Automotive Management Services, owner of several dealerships, most in the Southwest.

An advocate of employee training, she says, “If we don’t invest in our team, we are not investing in customers.” Before joining Automotive Management, she ran her own public-relations firm. Clients included Lexus, Ferrari and Maserati.

Modern car buyers, especially members of Generation Y, disdain delays at dealerships, Riazzi says. “They’ve done their homework, they are ready to move forward and they want a quick transaction.”

Use of technology helps dealerships speed up the sales and delivery processes, and foot-dragging delays are bad, Parajeckas says. “You don’t want them sitting on the couch for an hour” waiting to get into the finance and insurance office.

But Crevier tries to offer an atmosphere that encourages customers to linger.

The dealership provides hundreds of free car washes a day. In-store amenities include a cafe and putting green. “Wonderful things happen if customers ‘hang’ in the showroom,” Parajeckas says.

Jaguar Land Rover empowers dealers because they are “your first line of defense,” Duffield says. It’s also an efficiency issue. “Any problem that arises will probably get resolved cheaper at a dealership than if it gets back to the factory,” he says.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com