Monday, March 11, 2013

At SXSW, GM beefs up tech support for connected cars

As the pace of in-car technology increases and infotainment systems become more complex, the number of car buyers perplexed by the latest bells and whistles is growing. 
Although automakers have pushed for more dealer training to help buyers understand and operate these systems, there’s still a learning lag -- and unfortunately, most people don’t discover issues until after they’ve purchased the car.

To solve this -- and to reduce buyers remorse and increase brand loyalty -- several automakers have stepped up their game in providing tech support. Luxury brands in particular have started staffing dealerships with special technology experts. 

Last year, Lexus added Vehicle Technology Specialists when it launched the tech-laden GS, and Cadillac did the same when the XTS and its new Cue system went on sale. Stealing a page -- and name -- from Apple, in February BMW said it would add a “genius” at its dealerships to help customers with tech issues.

Last week, GM announced that it would double its tech-support efforts by hiring 25 Connected Customer Specialists assigned to dealerships around the country, bolstering the 25 it added last November. If the customer prefers to call to resolve an issue instead of driving back to the dealership, GM has set up a special rapid-response team at its Infotainment Center in Austin, Texas.

At the recent SXSW Interactive technology conference in Austin, which GM co-sponsored, I got a close-up look at the automaker’s cutting-edge tech-support efforts. At the rear of the sprawling GM Infotainment Center is a small, dimly lit room with a dozen customer-service agents sitting at computer workstations and speaking with car owners through wireless headsets. This is where Tom Kanable, director of tech support at the facility, oversees GM’s remote Geek Squad-like team.

Kanable began by explaining that his team prefers to keep the lights low. “Geeks like working in the dark,” he told MSN Autos, grinning. He also explained that low-level white noise is pumped into the room to help prevent a caller from hearing the conversations of adjacent agents. “It’s not like that coldness you get when you call the cable company,” he said.
The GM tech-support representatives also adopt the lexicon of the caller. “I may call the buttons on a car’s in-dash screen icons,” Kanable said. “My grandmother may call it a doo-dad. When we talk to customers and hear them say, ‘Well, the doo-dad on the screen …’ we stop calling it an icon and start saying doo-dad. This way we start to build rapport with customers so that they can walk us [through the problem] using their terminology.”

To better understand the issues customers are having with connected devices, a table in the center of the room has standalone working models of GM’s current infotainment systems, such as Cadillac Cue and Chevy MyLink. Scattered around these are dozens of the most popular portable devices that car owners might connect to their cars. 

“People call with so many different issues because there are so many different devices available,” Kanable said. “Having the devices on hand allows the team to replicate a problem that customer may be having. We can go and plug in these devices and re-create whatever that situation is.”

Kanable also pointed out that if the team notices that certain issues repeatedly pop up, they can be identified and solved more quickly using a collective approach. Issues that are “trending” are displayed on three large screens on one wall of the room. “The agents can see on the screens when trends start to form,” he said, “and be more alert to identifying them."

Identifying recurring problems as well as listening to customer feedback can also lead product designers to change an infotainment system down the road. “Customers tell us all the time what they want in their vehicles,” Kanable said. “They say, ‘This should really function this way.’ We send those ideas to engineering, marketing and product development. So a large customer-service center then becomes an intimate knowledge base.”

Courtesy of MSN

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