Classic design meets high tech
San Jose Harley-Davidson has unique opportunities and challenges. The dealership is located just south of Silicon Valley in Central California, and a large percentage of the customer base either works in the tech industry or is tech-savvy.
“We knew we had to step up our business model – we had all these high tech people coming our way,” says Doug Davis, San Jose Harley-Davidson’s service manager. “They never pick up the phone, for example. About three years ago, we started communicating by iPad.”
The problem the service department faces is, given the limited size of the facility, how to increase capacity, maintain quality work, and keep the employees happy. “Overload is not a good idea,” Davis says. “We wanted to better control the customers’ experience, with the customer as priority. The biggest challenge was for the service advisors. With volume came confusion, and sometimes mistakes were made.”
Although the service department still spins wrenches like any other service department, communication with the customer has moved far ahead. “When a customer comes to us, we ask them for an email address. We ask if they want updates in real time – they love it,” Davis exclaims. “We send photos of their bike, even if it is being parked for the night. The customer sees the photos, knows their bike is parked in a safe area and safe overnight. For a lot of these guys, that bike is their life.”
The service department has found that repeated video updates limits calls to service and interruptions to the technicians. Instead of someone having to take a call from a customer wanting to find out when their bike is going to be ready, find which of the 11 techs has the bike, talk to the tech and get back to the customer, the customer knows at all times what is going on. With the customer seeing what is being done to their bike, there is less confusion, less frustration and anger. It gives the customer confidence. In addition, if the customer is with other people when they receive the video on their iPhone, they will often show the video to their friends and business associates. This is the kind of advertising you cannot buy.
Another use for video is to document and explain a bill. For example, a customer wanted to buy one bike with the sheet metal from a second bike. The sheet metal swap, while sounding straightforward, was actually a complicated and time consuming job due to integrated electronics. “It took us nine hours,” remembers Davis. “We made a video of the operation, which showed why it took so long and showed the care we took. As a result, the customer accepted the bill. A lot of our customers choose a lot of accessories, and we videotape their bike having the accessories added. We send the video to the customer and is he excited! We used to use YouTube and we would get comments from all over the world. Now, we can post videos directly off a tablet or the Google Glass, although we still use YouTube for some applications. We can create a video with annotations and music in about 8 minutes.”
Google Glass are computer enabled glasses that are capable of transmitting video and speech recordings. They are in the development stage and not currently available for sale. One major advantage for technicians is that they work with head movements and voice commands – keeping greasy fingers off delicate electronics. “They have been in our program for two years,” notes Davis. “A customer sent info to Google about our facility. Google was impressed, and sent us a couple of pair to use. We are the only company using Google Glasses for this application. Imagine, a Harley-Davidson retailer working with the highest tech company in the world!”
“Here we are, a Harley-Davidson dealership working with the biggest tech company in the world. I was surprised to find out that they were as interested in us as we were in them because of the consistent passion for out product.” – Doug Davis, service manager, Harley-Davidson San Jose
Google Glass have many applications in the shop. For example: a technician puts a bike on the lift and finds that there is an unexpected problem. The tech needs to get the customer’s approval to do work outside of the original work order. As you know, it is imperative to get permission to go ahead when the bike is on the lift to maintain work flow. The tech puts on the glasses and contacts the customer by email from the glasses. The customer usually responds, since many of San Jose Harley’s customers are available by email during most of their waking hours. The customer sees what the technician sees, hears an explanation through the video feed, understands the problem and relays an OK to do the additional work. “We don’t have to button the bike up,” Davis remarks. “We don’t have to take it off the lift. We have just saved three phone calls and an hour and a half of down time.”
Interestingly, these customers who work on the cutting edge of the computer industry, consistently buy air-cooled Harleys. “Just riding fills their needs,” Davis points out. The age of their customer base ranges from young people in their 20s to grizzled oldsters in their 70s, although the most common demographic is between 35 and 60. A lot of people in Silicon Valley are recent immigrants who rode little motorcycles in their countries. Once in the U.S., and receiving a hefty tech industry paycheck, they pay a visit to San Jose Harley-Davidson dealership. Often times these customer’s dream is to ride a Harley-Davidson.
Women make up 10 percent of the ride-alone customers of San Jose Harley, but couples are 45 percent of the customer base. “A Harley is a team purchase in many cases. It’s a big family expense, and women make a lot of the purchase decisions,” notes Davis. This is helpful to the dealership in many ways. First, the woman often wants the seat, passenger pegs and backrest customized to fit her better. Women buy a lot of riding gear. Lastly, the motorcycle becomes the center of the couple’s social activities, ensuring that they will continue to ride – and continue to patronize San Jose Harley-Davidson.
The dealership puts on Garage Nights, a Harley-Davidson marketing effort designed to help women who are new to motorcycling, feel comfortable with Harleys and excited to take a beginner riding course. Service Night seminars explain basic mechanics and troubleshooting. The San Jose HOG chapter meets at the store every Thursday night. Monthly meetings at a restaurant regularly see 100 people attending.
“One of the things about the Harley-Davidson company is how it stays on the pulse of people’s lifestyle. Harleys fill a need 100 different ways,” explains Davis.
San Jose Harley-Davidson maintains a Facebook page and posts something on it at least once a week. Many times, the post is a photo of a cool bike or a new product, but often the dealership posts a question, such as “How old were you the first time you ever rode a motorcycle?” This and similar questions get a dialog rolling – giving the customers a reason to check back to the Facebook page on a regular basis.
“A Harley-Davidson is like no other product. It is part of a lifestyle. We talk to Apple and Google, and they ask us, ‘How do we get our customers to be as passionate about our products as Harley’s customers are about their motorcycles?’ It’s a lifetime commitment.”
Harley-Davidson San Jose
1551 Parkmoor Avenue
San Jose, CA 95128
Under current ownership for 4 1/2 years
Aftermarket: Harley-Davidson, Kuryakyn, Drag Specialties,
Arlen Ness, and other Harley-oriented accessory manufacturers