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Educating Customers On Technology

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Auto manufacturers continue to add newer and increasingly more sophisticated in-car technology to their vehicles. But, as it turns out, these new features—designed to make the lives of motorists easier—are the source of vehicle owners’ largest complaints with new models.

According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Initial Quality Study, owners reported more problems in their audio, entertainment and navigation systems than in any other area of the vehicle. It is the first time in the 26-year history of the study that in-car technology came in as the top problem for owners.

Dave Sargent, J.D. Power and Associate’s vice president of global automotive, says this number is likely because of the “rapid increase” of this technology across all manufacturers.

“It’s not that the technology themselves are getting worse; it’s just that more cars have them,” he says. “Now they’re pretty much on every car you’d want to buy. Because of that, they’ve really come into the forefront in terms of what customers are most likely to complain about.”

The study surveyed 74,000 vehicle owners, who have owned their 2012 vehicles for at least 90 days. Overall vehicle quality numbers were up from 2011.

The larger issue for repairers, though, is whether or not there is an opportunity to capitalize from these technological problems. As Sargent points out, most of these issues are not things that can be fixed, as the devices are working the way they’re designed; people just aren’t understanding how to use them.

Jamie Wooldridge, owner of Hilltown Hybrids in Plainville, Mass., has already seen his customers bring these issues to his shop, and he sorts through them on a case-by-case basis. Still, he says, there needs to be a new trend in educating customers about their systems, even if sometimes that means you’re eating production hours.

“It keeps them at your shop,” he says. “We work on a lot of Priuses and other newer cars, and if we’re telling them we won’t do it, they’ll be turning around and going to the dealer to get it figured out. Most of the time, it’s not even that much of an inconvenience.”

Wooldridge has helped customers sync their Bluetooth systems to their phones, set up their hands-free navigation systems, and has even gotten on a couple manufacturers’ locksmith registries to be able to help with keyless
entry systems.

“It’s kind of that trend to educating the customers, having education as a service,” he says.

And that’s the way Sargent sees some of the industry trending—or at least, he feels, it’s something shop owners need to pay attention to. Because of the increasing quality of vehicles, physical repairs in newer model cars may become less frequent. Sargent says that educational services will be key, and they may be something shops should charge for.

Dean Eckstrom, owner of Dean’s Auto Repair in Madison, Wis., feels this is inevitable. He already sees far more computer-related issues in his shop than in previous years. And even though most of those deal with more critical vehicle systems, he knows his shop will eventually need to focus some attention on special features in cars, features that are becoming more and more important to vehicle owners.

“We see that a lot of those problems are going back to the dealers,” he says. “Obviously, that’s not the way we want it to go.”

Wooldridge has started to charge customers for some of these services, and he says, customers aren’t complaining. While it certainly doesn’t make up a large portion of his work, he feels it’s important to make sure his shop proves to its customers that it can fix any problem that comes in.

“We’re a specialty shop, focusing on Toyota and Honda, but we want to make sure we can do everything we need to for our customers,” he says. “That’s why I got on the locksmith registry—anything to keep them here.”

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