“Progress might have been all right once,” humorist Ogden Nash once observed, “but it has gone on too long.” Apparently he is not alone in that attitude. Recent research found a disproportionally high percentage of new vehicle buyers in the U.S. don’t use, or even understand, many of the high-tech features included in today’s vehicles.
This leaves dealerships to explain to customers why they should pay for technology they don’t use and don’t necessarily want.
The report by J.D. Power found that half of the 33 cool high-tech items on late-model vehicles still were ignored by at least one-fifth of owners and lessees after 90 days. Topping the “unused” list were in-vehicle concierge (43 percent), mobile routers (38 percent), automatic parking systems (35 percent), head-up displays (33 percent) and built-in apps (32 percent).
While it’s easy to conclude that 20 percent of new car buyers are stubbornly averse to technology, the real impacts sadly are much simpler:
1) The technology features were not turned on when the vehicle was delivered to the customer,
2) Owners were not even aware their new car had those features, or
3) Those features were not explained to the owner when he or she took delivery.
Learn About Tech Adoption Quickly
As a dealership, it is sound practice to contact your customers during the first month of ownership to ask if they are using certain in-vehicle technology, and if not to ask why. That knowledge is critical to your business; owners who experience more of the available benefits in their new vehicles will be more satisfied and likelier to become repeat buyers. They’re also much more apt to refer new business to your dealership.
If your customers tell your people they are not trying technology because they don’t know how to use it, then it’s to your advantage to offer to educate them (I suggest how later in this article) as quickly as possible, before they lose interest. As with any new acquisition, interest in exploring car technology’s possible uses is always highest immediately after the purchase.
Comfort With Safety Features Is Vital
Keeping customers engaged and happy is important, but their safety is an even bigger priority. Driver safety technology features seem to be among the most challenging for owners of new vehicles. Vehicle-health diagnostics, blind-spot warning and detection systems and adaptive cruise control have proved intimidating to many buyers. And automotive insurers, according to the J.D. Power study, are concerned that these owners – and those struggling to use new technology without proper training – may actually pose a higher risk of causing an accident.
One example is drivers who use their own smartphones rather than hands-free in-vehicle technology. This is not only dangerous but also widely forbidden in the U.S. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety lists 14 states that have banned talking on hand-held cell phones while driving, and 37 states have restricted all cell phone use by novice drivers.
Teaching new buyers how to properly use in-vehicle safety technology could provide a great opportunity for forward-thinking dealerships. They’d be offering a crucial public service AND helping their stores stand out in the marketplace, potentially strengthening customer loyalty and fostering repeat and referral business.
Turn To Younger People As Instructors
Coaching customers to use more of their cars’ high-tech features wouldn’t necessarily be expensive. Quirk Auto Group, which has 14 stores in New England, pays tech-savvy teenagers $11 an hour to tutor new car buyers after school, on weekends and during school vacations.
With minimal product training, the teenagers answer customers’ questions, give live demonstrations and help owners link their mobile devices to their vehicles via Bluetooth for hands-free communication. Buyers learn at their own pace, either at the time of vehicle delivery or during service visits. Or, they can schedule special appointments.
Paying a teenager $11 to spend an hour with a new customer at the time of vehicle delivery is much more cost effective than tying up a salesperson or service advisor for the same amount of time after the sale is made. Salespeople can move on to other prospects, and the technology instruction is less rushed. Given that, generally speaking, younger people tend to be more tech-savvy, not only do customers accept and appreciate their help but also salespeople and service reps could use them to field tougher questions.
Online Forums Can Be Useful
However, other approaches to buyer education may work better for your dealership. For example, an online customer training forum – set up on your dealership’s website – might be more your style. Tech-savvy customers could share their know-how with other owners, and one of your sales or administrative staff could monitor the forum and answer questions as needed. To maximize the program’s effectiveness, new owners would receive marketing literature at the time of delivery that explains how and where to join the forum.
A dealership also could consider a separate area of its website that provides customers with easy to follow, graphically illustrated, step-by-step instructions on using every new high-tech feature offered in the makes and models it sells.
Add Video To Tech Instruction
Using your sales team is another great approach to customer education. Select one team member who is articulate, personable and well versed in the latest in-vehicle tech features. Videotape him or her explaining clearly how every component works. (You might even designate this person to be your dealership’s go-to guru for customers and staff regarding all things tech-related.)
Ideally, you’d have a separate, short video about each tech feature posted to a special page on your dealership’s website. At the time of vehicle delivery, your staff could give customers a business card bearing the site address and encourage them to watch the videos. An added advantage: Owners could view the videos multiple times if necessary, at their own pace.
No one method will work equally well for every dealership. The important thing is to make training and support available, convenient and customer-centric. It also is vital to make the tech training seem like a normal part of the process. Customers who may be too embarrassed to ask for help will be less reticent once they realize they are not alone.
In the end, any ideas, approaches and programs that help your customers understand and use their new in-vehicle high-tech features help distinguish your dealership as a leader that’s willing to go the extra mile for customers. And that is always good for business.