Saturday, March 7, 2015

Special Delivery: Car Technology

Technology specialist Michael Lampkin and Customer Relations specialist Karissa Sanchez
of DCH Lexus, with the sporty 2015 RC F
Special Delivery: Car Technology - PDF On a recent road trip, I found myself with idle hands as my girlfriend, Liz, drove us down to L.A. So I began to play around with the iDrive system in her BMW to see if there was anything interesting hidden within its menus. Inevitably, I came to the BMW Apps option and eagerly dove in.

The suite offered connections with services like Facebook and Twitter, as well as news and weather feeds, among other things. After wrestling with the controller for quite a while, I eventually figured out how to activate all these features. Still, the functionality was sub-par, and we ultimately concluded that it was likely the only person using the BMW Apps suite was the engineer who designed it.

There were a few other features on her car that Liz wasn’t familiar with, so I gave her a brief tutorial based on my experience evaluating vehicles, including BMWs, throughout my career. And of course, the thought came to us: shouldn’t the dealer have done this?

Yes, yes somebody there should have, as part of the delivery process. Delivery is what dealers call the process when a buyer comes to complete the purchase and pick up their vehicle. And getting it right has become all the more important in these days of proliferating automotive technology.

Just about every luxury car now has an infotainment screen, which centralizes all of the functions of the vehicle, such as music, navigation, climate control, vehicle customization, and things such as web browsing and smartphone app extensions. These systems are now becoming more common among mainstream cars as well, and this fact can actually have a surprisingly negative impact on satisfaction with these cars. Consumer Reports has noted strongly that certain brands were seeing lots of unhappy customers due to confusion over infotainment systems.

Just as Liz’s BMW dealer failed to adequately school her on the car’s systems – the dealer name has been omitted to protect the lazy – I’ve heard from many other people who have had similar experiences.

Isn’t there any dealer out there who takes the time to do a delivery right? I decided to find out. So I took to the web, and using Yelp I sifted through reviews of just about every dealership in Santa Barbara, looking for one thing: the mention of a thorough delivery process. And I found it, once.

The only dealer I saw who got props for walking a customer through the many features of a car was DCH Lexus, and the reviewer, Steve F., mentions Dana Ochoa by name, thanking her for a great sales experience.

Now, I certainly don’t mean to suggest that this type of experience doesn’t happen regularly in Santa Barbara, since this was a cursory examination of one source. I’ve definitely had great interactions with local dealers, and I know they provide many great customer experiences. But I would have expected such an important aspect of the delivery process to be more memorable.

So I decided to talk to Ochoa about her approach, as well as that of the dealership she represented. While she no longer works at DCH, she sat down with me to talk about her experiences there and the legacy she left, as well as her general philosophy of customer service.

Ochoa started her career at a Toyota dealer in L.A. in the 1980s, and has had experience at several dealerships. In her view, many of them have historically had an attitude about the delivery characterized by “The 3 Cs”: “See the keys, see the car, see ya later,” she said.

Lampkin and Sanchez explore
the RC F’s mouse-like touch pad
“Very often, all you’d do is show them where the headlights and wipers were,” she added. “Frankly most people were so excited, they just wanted to go and play with their car.”

As technology became a bigger part of the user experience with cars, dealerships took a bit of a “trial and error” approach, said Ochoa. When customers would come back and ask about a feature, the dealers would start to educate them more.

In recent years, though, some car manufacturers began to push dealers to start educating customers further, realizing the damage their confusion could do to their brands. Lexus has been one of the most aggressive in this regard. During her time at DCH, Lexus approached Ochoa to set up a Lexus Delivery Specialist function.

“We were a brand-new store. At the same time that we were launching, Lexus was launching their Delivery Specialist.” While most Lexus stores designated a single Delivery Specialist, DCH invested the money to certify each of their sales people as such. Ochoa created the LDS program for the store, which is still used as the template for deliveries there.

Ochoa has since moved on from DCH, but I got a chance to talk to her successor, Karissa Sanchez, who is in charge of Customer Relations. She talked about the current process, which is driven largely by the use of a custom iPad app from Lexus.

The app cleverly starts with a customer-specified delivery duration and fits the features into the time allotted. Interestingly, when Sanchez showed me the list of recent deliveries, every single one had been roughly a half hour. It’s not surprising, given customers’ excitement to get on the road, and it clarifies the challenges that dealers must face in educating their buyers. There’s a fine line between a thorough run-through and information overload.

Michael Lampkin, the dealership’s technology specialist, echoed this sentiment. “After a while, the fatigue sets in and their eyes glass over, and I don’t even know if they’re retaining it.” He suggests to many customers that they carry a pad with them in the car to write down anything further they’d like to learn.

One challenge for the delivery process can even be outside technology, such as when setting up connections to third-party apps. Lexus’s Enform infotainment system lets them link with these apps, but a lot of customers do this at home because they can’t remember their passwords, said Sanchez. This issue sounded all too familiar, and my suggestion that they have customers arrive with a list of their passwords was received positively.

The Safety Connect system is also set up at this time, so if the car is in an accident Lexus can dispatch emergency services to its location. While many infotainment systems have this sort of functionality, I suspect that in the absence of thorough delivery processes, many drivers leave the dealer without ever knowing about it.

Regardless of where you buy your next car, odds are there’ll be a learning curve, and you’ll need to play around with it for a while to get the full picture of all the technology packed into your new “rolling computer.” But the good news is, dealers and manufacturers are getting much better at educating their buyer base about all these vehicles have to offer, so there’s hope for even the staunchest technophobes.

If you have a story about a special car or piece of car culture in the local area, email Randy at rlioz11@gmail.com.

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