One of the more active and heated debates on the value of design to business is over what are called "factory image programs" for car dealerships.
Most car manufacturers, concerned about the alignment of dealership appearance with their product programs, periodically impose or strongly influence updates to the physical quality and character of dealers' facilities. Most dealers resist the programs because they are unable to link a measurable business benefit like increased sales to the high cost of these programs.
So the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) commissioned an independent study to uncover and identify the value in the programs and recommend a resolution to the ongoing conflict between them and the manufacturers. The study was just released at the annual NADA convention a couple of days ago.
I expect I'll return to comment further on the study in the near future. But I did want to offer an initial and very interesting out-take from the study.
After discussing the diverse and complex array of considerations and influences that made solid conclusions almost impossible to derive, and especially after uncovering that the annual costs of billions of dollars spent on dealership facilities meant very little, if anything, to people buying the cars, the study uncovered an unanticipated yet solidly expressed value in the programs.
…dealers expressed pleasant surprise that, after they completed a store upgrade, it became much easier to attract, retain, and motivate good staff. One multi-point dealer even told us that "I modernize as much to attract good staff as to impress the customers." Another pointed out that with improved employee morale came improved CSI scores, which makes sense. The impact seemed especially powerful in the service area: as one interviewee put it: "A dropped ceiling in the service bays will do wonders in attracting and retaining good technicians, who are pretty used otherwise to being ignored."
Despite the experiential evidence that there was this direct link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction (CSI = Customer Satisfaction Index), there apparently has been no survey by the manufactures or the dealer association to uncover and verify these anecdotal, and logical, findings.
And I think that's where I'll return in future commentary. I have some significant experience in factory image programs and have consistently been surprised with the fact that they align things (store fixtures) with things (car designs) but not the real experiences with and in these things.
That to me is the most important point of this study, affirming what we know from other places. The real power of workplace design lies not in the "brand image" but in the experiences of work. The quality and character of the workplace directly links to attraction, engagement, morale, motivation and performance of good employees, and that directly links to quality and character of the customer's experience with the organization.
The NADA has, in other words, discovered what we've said in so many other places – the leading organizations of the future will be the ones who "own" the experiences of work.