Inspired By: The Customer-First Magic in the BMW Welt
Each month, we’ll hear about the latest and greatest in customer experiences through the lenses of design and technology, straight from the brain of Grant Owens, Chief Strategy Officer of Critical Mass, a global experience design agency.
When it comes to customer experiences, the BMW Welt is next level. Next level design thinking. Next level service coordination. Next level retail theater.
The BMW Welt (translates to “BMW World”) is a magnificent multipurpose building opened 10 years ago in Munich, Germany to showcase BMW vehicles and welcome new customers from around the globe to the brand.
I’m a car nut, and the Welt is unquestionably my Disneyland. Beyond working on car accounts in the advertising space for the last 15 years, I worked in a car factory when I was younger. I can change my own oil, and I’ve done body work on a few jalopies. I speak car. And this place speaks to me.
Our agency, Critical Mass, works with clients in a vast number of industries that are in a tough battle to win over the customer, but few are more competitive and vigorous than automotive. And while other automotive brands offer physical brand flagships, there is simply nothing close to the BMW Welt. Yes, they are a client of ours (full disclosure), but even if they weren’t, I’d still say, with equivocation, that the Welt is arguably the greatest new customer experience in the world. The new vehicle delivery process at the Welt is a master class in delighting the customer.
Although more common in Europe than the US market, customers who order a specific vehicle for production can choose to take delivery and drive their new car home from the Welt. For customers based in the U.S., they can choose the European delivery program and take delivery at the Welt too.
For customers that elect to take delivery of their new BMW at the Welt, a flawlessly timed and coordinated experience awaits. To call it customer-centered is an understatement: mind, body, and family are all taken into consideration.
Here are the key elements of the BMW Welt that make it a world class brand experience:
Room to Breathe
Customers are given space and time. Zero rush. Anyone taking delivery is given three days of access to the overall space and the private lounge. Beyond that they can peruse the public areas, shop the store, or even rent some of BMW’s most powerful vehicles by the hour. Visitors can also enjoy multiple restaurants in the building — with the two-Michelin-star EssZimmer being one of the hardest tables to book in Munich.
Function Floating in Form
The Welt, while multipurpose, is truly purpose-built architecture. This isn’t a Starbucks in an old bank or the Apple Store in Grand Central Terminal — while those things are great, this is even more impressive. In addition to a floating bridge defying gravity, it’s quiet on the second floor for those taking delivery and busy downstairs where others are looking at the latest products from BMW, MINI, and Rolls-Royce. The Welt manages to function as four or five separate environments in one open space — it’s a nearly paranormal architectural feat.
Strategic Future Proofing
The Welt experience satisfies every part of the supply chain and will for the foreseeable future. It will encourage product sales in a digital dealer era, a post-digital era, and beyond. For all of the doomsday forecasts of brick and mortar (with which I mostly agree) the Welt turns the retail space entirely on its head and makes you fall in love with bricks all over again.
Less Paperwork, More Ceremony
Anyone who has purchased and financed a new car knows the dream of getting your ride is quickly overshadowed by confusing piles of paperwork. The client advisors at the Welt have streamlined the process to the bare minimum and within minutes customers are either enjoying an hors d’oeuvre or getting one of the most advanced virtual product tours on the planet, infused with a personalized audio track based on the owner’s preferences.
Despite the wizardry and entertainment features of the Welt, the product remains the hero — the lead actor is always the car. As new customers leave the lounge and head down a floating staircase, the client advisors know exactly which stair to stop on right before the customer’s car comes into view. It’s the climactic moment, and I never tired of watching the smiles on their faces as their new BMW spun slowly below them as they continued down the staircase. After descending, they’re welcome to get in their car, start it up, and ask every question they can think of. Then finally, they can literally drive their vehicle in a spiral track through the building and out into the city.
All That You Don’t See
In addition to this being my own personal Disneyland, the Welt shares traits with Walt’s theme park creation. Behind the scenes, the logistics of the Welt are German engineering at its finest. My team and I were lucky enough to receive a backstage tour, and the precision between phases of prep and delivery is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They are using connected devices to generate an experience that seems like magic to the customer.
Some Secrets I Can’t Tell
There are number of hidden areas and surprises within the Welt, and I’d be ruining it for many if I leaked them here. But suffice it to say, these special elements go far beyond delighting the customer. They add up to a brand impression and memory that surpasses the customer’s craziest expectations. Even those of the craziest car nuts, like myself.