It seemed like a dream, but I was very much awake. I really was getting a great free massage at my local Honda dealer. When I was done, I had the choice of bagels or popcorn to go with my coffee.
Massage therapist Jessica LeClair told me, while unknotting my tension-filled shoulder, that she comes down to Honda of Westport (in Connecticut) for five hours every Monday morning—presumably when the people who hate Mondays are the most stressed.
At Big Two Toyota in Chandler, Arizona, massage is just part of it—there’s also a barber shop and nail salon. And Café 1250 serves food, while the kids play in a 700-foot play area styled after a pirate ship. There’s also a shuttle to the nearby mall, and a business center. Be warned, though—the massages cost $15.
Jaguar of Southwest Houston has free shuttles, free wash and vacuum, and a “luxurious waiting area including massage chairs, freshly baked cookies, snacks and beverages.” The Subaru dealer in Puyallup, Washington has Jacquelyn as a staff massage therapist, and hands out iPads.
In 1985, the great comedian Garry Shandling did a sketch about car dealerships on Mike Nesmith’s short-lived show Television Parts. The service manager tells him that the work is going to take three to four months, but it’s OK because “we have a really great waiting room.” And they do: A community of people with numbers on their heads has formed, and there are weenie roasts, tents for long-term stays, even a garden. See it below.
Well, these days what was fantasy has become reality. You really can get just about everything from your car dealer’s service department. At Lincoln, SUV Marketing Manager Megan McKenzie told me that “concierge services set the brand apart. For 2017 and newer cars, you can use the Lincoln Way app and schedule a service—we’ll pick your car up, leave you a loaner, then bring the car back, washed. It takes out the stress of having your car serviced.” I guess so. I thought for most people, the stress of car repair is reading the invoice.
Lincoln also has a personal driver service, available in a few cities. “Say you know you’re going out and know you’ll be having a couple of drinks,” McKenzie told me. “We’ll send someone to drive your car for you. Our research shows that customers want services like this—effortless and seamless.”
Volvo’s concierge is built around a digital key that your dealer has access to, allowing your car to be picked up and serviced without the need to hand over a fob. When you order a Volvo online, you get assigned a concierge who guides you through the process. The Volvo app can be used for getting gas, having the car washed, and valet parking. “It’s all about convenience,” said U.S. CEO Lex Kerssemakers.
You have to sign up for these services, and they’re neither free nor available everywhere, but they’re in pilot programs that are becoming common in the industry. Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst at Navigant Research, informed me that sales tend to be flat for automakers these days, so they need gimmicks:
Concierge services of various kinds (including free waiting-room wifi, car washes, massages and pick up and delivery of cars) can improve the customer experience to a degree that the customer is more inclined to come back next time whether it is for service at that dealer or to buy a new car. More broadly, this same trend is behind the move to subscription services. By bundling car payment, insurance and service, it can help to keep customers locked in (much as Apple does with its upgrade program) and the monthly rate can even include some extra profit margin in exchange for the convenience or flexibility of being able to swap cars more frequently.
John Davis, chief program engineer for the new Lincoln Aviator, told me that automakers are “thinking about things that happen before and after your interaction with the vehicle. It’s about creating a safe space and alleviating the pain points.”
The concierge thing has inspired entrepreneurs, such as David Zwick, who created Red Cap Valet. The company signs up dealerships for its “out-of-store” sales and service, including test rides. Red Cap asks, “Did you know 90 percent of your customers want to experience sales and service without coming to your store? Customers value their vehicles and their time. They want to buy and service from you, but choose dealers offering the most convenience. Within a few short years, out of store experiences for automotive customers will be the norm.”
Of course, if you’re driving a beater Honda Civic, or maybe a Mercury Bobcat with rocker panels that have seen better days, you’re not going to sign up for this kind of thing. Hey, maybe you don’t value your vehicle or your time.
But automakers are finding that their customers are increasingly choosing the top-tier trim levels. They want luxury and personal services—if they can afford it.
Personally, I like services like these if they’re free. My appetite for paying through the nose isn’t large. Zwick says that carmakers “are looking at a way to bake this into the price of the car, and they may be able to market their car as coming with this concierge-type of service.” Of course, that means the car would be more expensive, and cheapskates like me won’t like that either.
Here's that surreal Garry Shandling skit, from the late, great Television Parts:
And, just for fun, another one from the same show featuring a very young Jay Leno: