|Han Sung Motor Bangbae Service Center in southern Seoul. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
In a relatively remote corner of the affluent district of Gangnam, a four-story building sporting a three-pointed star logo stands alone.
At its simplest, it is a repair shop where Mercedes-Benz owners come to have their pricey vehicles fixed. But its upstairs is more like a luxury suite, complete with first-class seats in private cubicles for watching TV, an upscale snack bar and nail-care salon.
“This is not just a service center but also a healing space for Benz owners,” said Lee Seung-taek, service manager of the center that Han Sung Motor, the largest Mercedes-Benz dealer in Korea, has operated since 2010.
|Apart from the repair section, the service center is facilitated with a snack bar (above) and private cubicles for watching TV and other entertainment (bottom) . (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
It was a huge investment for Han Sung, established in 1985 and owned by Hong Kong-based business group Lei Shing Hong. The company paid 30 billion won ($28 million) just to secure the 8,200 square-meter site, while preparations took almost two years, including construction and staff training.
With the import car market soaring and competition getting fiercer, carmakers, especially luxury brands, are pouring more resources into after-sales service. Han Sung, the first importer of Benz cars into the market, believes the quality comes not just from the number of repair shops but also from innovative thinking.
The Bangbae center was the first car dealer to adopt a hotel concierge system into the automotive industry.
When a Benz car passes through the main gate of the service center, a sensor tracks down the record of the vehicle and its owner. Then a concierge like those at luxury hotels serves the customer during the whole process of repair work.
Fixing the car could take from a few minutes to hours. But the center makes much use of the otherwise boring waiting time by offering a variety of options to choose from.
Customers can watch TV shows or movies in a private room equipped with luxurious comfort chairs or have lunch in a modern dining room. Female customers favor the nail care and coloring service.
The workshops on the basement floor are also far from a shabby, oil-stained garage. The serene environment looks more like the research lab of a chipmaker or a pharmaceutical company.
“It’s the Benz standard,” Lee said.
There are 32 workshops at the center, including 16 for general repair work and 16 for plating and painting. Forty-four high-skilled technicians at the center fix some 18,000 vehicles every year, including not just Benz cars but also their AMG versions and Maybach cars.
Han Sung hires and trains some 400 mechanics at its 13 service centers nationwide. It has also earned a reputation globally, winning several technical competitions among those working for Benz dealers.
“It takes about 10 years to nurture a tech master,” said the center’s chief. “Even German technicians are surprised at the technical superiority of Korean mechanics.”
As the center’s unique service gains positive reviews among customers, now the center has become a benchmark for other carmakers. German luxury brands like Audi and BMW have started offering similar services, while Hyundai Motor, the Korean auto giant striving to appeal to high-end customers, also visited the center to earn tips.
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org)