MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Filtering by Tag: branding

How car dealers uncovered a surprising key to greater customer satisfaction

 

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.

Workspace "activation" – emerging concepts to move beyond workplace "branding"

activation0001_blogactivation0002_blogactivation0003_blog I’ve spoken frequently of my appreciation of the “white space” of the workplace. I appreciate most the power of these spaces that lie between function and interaction to energize and activate the workspace.

These places are rare in the normal allocation of space in organizational real estate, especially in times of constrained spending. Yet, perhaps because they may more authentically represent the culture of the organization, we’ve found that these are the places and spaces that evoke the commitment and engagement of staff and enhance their performance. These are places, in other words – normally cut from organizational space allocations – that allow people to more rapidly and effectively comprehend, support and achieve the organizational mission.

We are preparing proposals for an organization who sought a dramatic transformation of its culture as an essential factor in its sustainability and its ability to contribute effectively to the sustainability of its partner organizations and the communities where they do their work.

Their new “offices” – in a formerly mistreated and largely abandoned high-rise – has a model proportion of “white spaces.” These spaces – unnamed in the functional program but provided through “net-to-gross” conversion factors – support several cultural and behavioral shifts:

  • From closed to open
  • From assigned to free
  • From entitlement to activity
  • From formal to casual
  • From secure to invitational

Most importantly, these spaces provide places for the staff to meet with members of partner organizations in extended occupancy – a few days or a few weeks – to work on problems and develop programs to benefit a constituency or community. What had previously been scheduled, agenda-driven and formal now can accommodate a project timeline and become appropriately and effectively extended, adaptable, resource-rich, collaborative, and focused on impact rather than time.

Now, in the last phase of their implementation and move, we are transforming our commission – develop and implement an identity and wayfinding signage program – toward a program for what we’re calling “workspace activation.”

We have generally moved away from more conventional, and commercial, concepts of “workplace branding.” We believe that the best expression of the brand of a company or organization is its work, and that the visible display of its work is much more effective than the display of corporate identity or communication of motto. We also believe that this “workspace activation” resonates into the effectiveness, influence and impact of the organization and its people.

Some emerging guiding principles include –

  • You are your brand – make your work visible; display what you do and how you do it
  • Make the workplace a canvas for discovery – "collaboration" so many times references production, yet a key culture of leading organizations is creating knowledge, as well; encourage communication and experience sharing
  • Design for experience – allow adaptation of the workspace to enable immersion in the work by shaping the space to meet the needs of the project

We are therefore developing a palette of graphic and other resources to animate the space with color, movement, image, information, invitation and hospitality. Neither “wayfinding,” nor “branding,” nor “signage,”  our program proposes a set of cues, clues, samples and examples to encourage a culture of information openness, collaborative participation, and continuous communication.

We hope to provide a canvas for uncovering potential, giving coherence to capabilities, and initiating sustaining transformation.

© Jim Meredith/MEREDITH Strategy & Design LLC