Lexus Adds Tech Specialists to Dealerships
Luxury brands are putting extra resources into explaining bells and whistles to customers.
Safety advocates aren’t the only ones concerned about all the technology that’s going into cars these days. Automakers and car dealers are quietly worried, too, but not entirely due to driver distraction.
They’re uneasy about valuable time spent during the delivery process explaining all of the latest bells and whistles to customers, worrying that it can take personnel away from their primary task of selling cars. Dealers are also on the front lines of maintaining automakers' crucial customer-satisfaction score, as measured by companies such as J.D. Power and Associates.
To show how important tech has become to car buyers -- and how much it can affect these scores -- Ford fell from fifth place in 2010 to 23rd last year in J.D. Power and Associates' 2011 Initial Quality Survey, mainly due to complaints about its clunky MyFord Touch interface. Even before this major downgrade, Ford dealers essentially demanded that the Blue Oval compensate them for extra time spent explaining the system to customers, and Ford relented by forking over cash.
Last week Toyota took the pioneering step of announcing the creation of two new positions at dealerships for its luxury Lexus brand. The vehicle delivery specialist will introduce customers to their new cars and go over the features of each vehicle, and the vehicle technology specialist will serve as a contact for customers who have questions on how to use their vehicle’s electronics.
The initiative coincides with the launch of the new 2013 Lexus GS, and the luxury brand’s dealers will use more technology, in the form of interactive iPad applications, to educate buyers. The apps are designed specifically for the GS and include training exercises for salespeople; they also are available for customers to download. Owners can even use an iPad’s Facetime feature to contact a dealer and get remote personal tutorials on the tech in their vehicles.
Other luxury automakers are also striving to make their dealers and salespeople more tech-savvy and arming them with iPads and apps. Last week, USA Today reported that Cadillac has developed an iPad app to explain how to use its complex Cue infotainment system debuting on the new XTS sedan. For now, the app is exclusive to dealers, but customers will be able to get it later at the iTunes App Store. Infiniti salespeople are also employing iPads to demonstrate tech features to customers.
Of course, there’s the old-fashioned paper owner’s manual to explain all these newfangled features. But many owners never crack them open. (Lexus is probably the leader in printing epic, novel-sized owner’s manuals). “We're finding customers won't take the time to read through that," Vince Salisbury, a Lexus dealer training manager, told USA Today. "They've paid for the features on their car, and they should be educated on how they work."
After learning that some of its dealers were hiring technology specialists to explain electronic features to customers, instead of relying on salespeople or service advisers, Lexus decided to implement its new nationwide program. Sewell Lexus in Dallas even wooed its tech specialist, Alex Oger, away from a local Apple Store. His job is explaining a car’s features "so it's something the customer wants," and Oger says he has witnessed several "eureka moments" when customers figured it out on their own.
With technology only increasing in cars, maybe it won't be long before an automaker creates something similar to Apple’s Genius Bar in its dealerships.
Doug Newcomb has been covering car technology for more than 20 years for outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to Edmunds.com. In 2008, he published his first book, "Car Audio for Dummies" (Wiley). He lives and drives in Hood River, Ore., with his wife and two kids, who share his passion for cars and car technology, especially driving and listening to music.
EXPLORE NEW CARS
MORE ON MSN AUTOS
ABOUT EXHAUST NOTES
Cars are cool, and here at MSN Autos we love everything about them, but we also know they're more than simply speed and style: a car is an essential tool, a much-needed accessory to help you get through your day-to-day life. What you drive is also one of the most important investments you can make, so we'll help you navigate your way through the car buying and ownership experiences. We strive to be your daily destination for news, notes, tips and tricks from across the automotive world. So whether it's through original content from our world-class journalists or the latest buzz from the far corners of the Web, Exhaust Notes helps you make sense of your automotive world.
Have a story idea? Tip us off at firstname.lastname@example.org.