Selling Telematics: Delivering on the Promise of Technology

There is a troubling disconnect that exists between many new-car buyers and their in-car, telematics and infotainment technology. They see it demonstrated in TV commercials and they're immediately sold on it.

They buy the cars and even though they're eager to use it, once someone at the dealership starts explaining the procedures to them, their eyes begin glazing over and they decide it's too complicated. The result might be that the dealership has sold a car, but lost a customer.

This situation is not unique to today's connected car. It's the same with nearly every other piece of modern consumer electronics. But with them, all the manufacturer has to do is point the frustrated buyer to the manual, and beyond that, whether they sink or swim, is not really their problem.

With automobiles, of course, the situation is completely different. It is unlikely anyone will be injured or lose their life if a smartphone doesn't perform right, but with an automobile, the safety risks are all too real.

In a perfect world, new car buyers would learn the intricacies of their new car's infotainment suite when they're there at the showroom taking delivery. What could be more effective than spending two or three leisurely hours at the dealership with one or two of their specially-trained experts who quickly bring the driver up to speed on the main capabilities and basic procedures? This way, they'd get the hang of it and be comfortably past the 'knowledge threshold' so that all the things they don't quite understand will fall into place with only a little additional effort.

But as we all know, it doesn't work that way. The optimal moment for getting drivers to engage with their new car's telematics suite also happens to be exactly when the customer wants to wrap up everything, drive home and start showing their new car off to their friends. And so, all too often they drive away only to call back sheepishly because they can't get the keyless entry to work.

Even worse, they're too embarrassed or flustered to call back at all. They learn how to drive their new car, but for the rest of the time they own it, many elements of their in-car systems remain unused, which, needless to say, makes for very unsatisfied customers. 

Solving this problem needs to be done on two separate levels. For the dealer, one part is to effect a change in their post-sale relationship with the customer.  Instead of a single delivery, where the customer takes the car and doesn't show up again until the first oil change, savvy car salesmen are now urging their customers to get used to the idea of bringing the car back for second, third, fourth, even fifth deliveries.

This way, they can answer questions, give them more training, and tweak things like the Bluetooth, which might not be working perfectly.

“When I do the delivery, I try to find out what is important to the client,” says car salesman Gabby Ingalls. “We sell a lot of cars with Adaptive Cruise Control and I find it takes a little time to get used to it and feel confidence in it,” He added that one of the things he does to get the engagement process going and keep the frustration levels low is to see that certain basic systems like Pandora and the Homelink garage door opener are already registered and set up before the customer gets it.

But while these small solutions are very useful, the real heart of the problem doesn't lie in the disconnect between the driver and the technology, but between the one that exists between the dealership and the OEMs. Connected-car technology has grown massively in recent years, both in its complexity and in the sheer mass of it. The average car owner manual is 460 pages long. Most infotainment systems feature 233 available features. The number of in-car apps offered by carmakers has grown by 130% since 2013.

Despite this, the training that the OEM offers the dealership's sales force has mostly remained at the same levels as before. The OEMs do not own the dealerships.

They are separate entities and there is only so much training that the OEMs can push on them. It is also more geared to helping them sell cars than to helping their drivers understand the systems. This has led some to think the best solution to this problem might be best to bring in a third party whose expertise is in assessing the true state of a dealership's capabilities and then developing additional, more effective, training methodologies.

“There is a growing appetite at dealerships for more training on the technology in vehicles, and there are ways to augment what is being provided with additional training platforms and incentive programs,” says Matt Messing, Director of Business Development for Gamivation, which has partnered with automotive consultancy SBD to develop dealership-training programs.

“In general, the overall baseline level of knowledge for automotive sales people is perceived by the consumer to be low. The first step is to raise that level to a place where it meets most consumers’ basic expectations for having the technology explained to them.

“While some dealerships have a few people or roles dedicated to learning the technology in vehicles, buyers expect that everyone should be able to assist them with basics – things like connecting smart phones. The goal of our training programs is to help raise that bar so the majority of sales people have that basic level of knowledge.”

Jeffrey Hannah, Director, North America at SBD, suggests that, “training can be further augmented by putting each automaker's offering against the broader competitive landscape (substitutes and direct competitors) and succinctly messaging the key advantages in a way that resonates with dealership personnel and potential customers.  Basic features, connectivity, and apps are becoming the price of entry. Automakers and their dealers must not only educate customers on what they offer, but also convince them why their offering is significantly better than competitors  X, Y, and Z. When the margins of winning or losing are so tight, being ready for an increasingly tech-savvy customer is a must.”

Because dealerships generally have high turnover among their sales staff, Messing says OEMs often don't have clear visibility to them, so it is difficult for them to measure the effectiveness of their training. “Additionally,” says Messing, “augmented training programs often have the benefit of creating great new databases for our clients with contact information for all participants they sometimes don’t even have. Everything can be tracked to an individual level, including whether or not people actually viewed or engaged with training content, and how they scored on certification testing and ongoing sustainment training. The ultimate goal is to also track customer interactions or demonstrations of the technology as well as ensure that consistent messages and experiences are being delivered to buyers.”

The key, ultimately, is to provide the sales staff with the training that allows them to understand what the customer really needs to understand. If they can do that and insure that the customer's frustration levels remain low, the dealership's CSI scores are likely to remain high, and the salesman might just find he's got a customer for life.

TU-Automotive Detroit Conference & Exhibition 2015 (June 3-4) will discuss the role of the dealer in the connected car now and in the future. Find out more here.



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