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Using Consumer Software Complaints as a Resource

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J.D. Power & Associates recently published its SafteyIQ Report that examines the record-breaking number of recalls and customer complaints with in-vehicle software that are being logged with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In the past five years, 2,011 complaints related to automotive software have been logged with the NHTSA. J.D. Power’s SafetyIQ report gathered data from NHTSA and Technical Service Bulletins from 2011–2016. Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. auto quality at J.D. Power, discusses the report and how the information can help mechanical shops improve customer satisfaction.

What exactly is the SafetyIQ report and how was the data collected for it?
Many databases are difficult to work with because they aren’t organized in a way that makes it easy to search. Knowing this, we felt there was an opportunity to help the industry with the SafetyIQ report. We started investigating about a year ago and we launched the report on March 24.

Our company works in the area of quality, so it made sense for us to start looking at recalls, which are at an all-time high. Another area that we wanted to examine that people aren’t really talking about is the number of consumer complaints that are being logged with NHTSA, which are also at a record high. We started looking at the information that was available from all the different databases out there. Once we had information from different databases, we began searching for recalls and complaints specifically on software. With the information available, J.D. Power and the NHTSA created SafetyIQ, which is a fast investigation for both automakers and suppliers to look across and find out how well they are actually performing and benchmark themselves against other automakers and suppliers.

Why does J.D. Power think software glitches are important to track?
Software is important because it’s driving vehicles. There is a move toward autonomous vehicles, which means computers are taking over and consumers need to be able to trust that technology. We need to understand what the failure modes are. It’s not all negative, though. Having the ability to have software upgrades is an enabler to reducing repair costs, which is something that companies like Tesla are doing. There are lots of opportunities, but we are also seeing the areas where improvement is needed.

What were some of the trends you found?
There’s a high percentage across all generations of consumers that want technology to assist somehow in the way that they are driving. However, in order for consumers to accept these technologies, they have to work right. They need to trust the technology.

What we found was that in the last few years, consumers are logging their concerns more often. In 2014, 76,000 overall complaints were logged and that number rose to over 77,000 in 2015. Those years also had the highest number of recalls that had a software-related fix at 45 percent. Out of those 77,000 complaints in 2015, 600 were directly related to software, which is a 21 percent increase from 2014. The comments varied from consumers talking about the fact that something didn’t work or was confusing to complaints about the software fix not working at all. Other consumers mentioned that the software fix fixed the original complaint but started another problem.

It was eye-opening, watching the trends go up. In J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study, we saw a trend with updates as well. On things like navigation updates, about one-third of consumers reported a problem, and of that third, 55 percent said that the upgrade didn’t fix the problem. Automatic transmission complaints rank in the top 10 vehicle complaints among vehicle owners. Thirty-one percent of owners received a transmission software update within a year and 35 percent of those owners reported that it didn’t help.

How can mechanical shops use this information to help customers?
One of the areas that we are looking at is the ability to diagnose when consumers are indicating that the fix isn’t working. Shops can use the database and look at make, model, year and can even break it down further into regions and dealerships and see where consumers had specific complaints. Repair facilities will have access to the issues that consumers are struggling with and what fixes they are not taking. Shops will be able to keep an eye out for issues that might be coming their way. For example, maybe they may have a consumer that has a problem that they haven’t seen before. The shop can go onto the database and see other consumers that have had that same problem and download what to do. By using the database, shops will be able to draw the line between communication from the OEM side and what consumers are saying. It’s an easy way to make comparisons on make, model, year and all the way down to the component level.

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