Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Got Those Infotainment Blues

You are driving down the road and your windshield fogs up. Easy. In the old days, you reached over and pushed a button for your defroster. How could we improve on that?

Infotainment.

Now, we press on a new steering wheel button that does not control cruise control, radio volume, FM/AM/Satellite radio, change channels, tell us the instantaneous mpg, or whatever. This new button activates the robot. Push and speak. Meanwhile, the fog's getting thicker and visibility is diminishing.

The robot asks us what we want to do. Can't see much anymore. We say, "Defrost the windshield." Oops. We said it wrong.

Getting desperate. We scream "DEFROSTER!" The robot does not care that we are starting to freak out. It's focused on elocution and correct phrasing.

You blindly (literally) pull over to the side of the road and find the tiny knob or touch screen sequence that engages the defroster and allows you to see again.

Next, you visit your dealer and ask what's going wrong. The service advisor examines your car and takes you by the hand out to your car and explains how the robot works, how to sequence your requests, and how to articulate the commands. The advisor tells you that the vehicle is fine. Implicit in this is that your command of the technology is not so fine.

You leave the dealership and try to use the robot to call your sister, but end up dialing your mother-in-law. The connection was so fast and complex that it could not be stopped. Your mother-in-law hates you for not coming to Thanksgiving last year. (OK, she hates you for a lot more than that.) You act nice, but when the call is over, you scream at your car.

At home, you call the customer service line and scream at a young man who’s in a call center somewhere overseas. This person did not design the robot.

You hate your new car. You hate your dealer. You hate that damn robot in your car.

In the world of aftersales, we are used to customer emotions coming out when something is broken and/or the repair is long and/or expensive. We have more than 100 years of experience with these sorts of situations.

However, we do not have a lot of experience with situations where our customers are freaked out and everything is working just fine with their car - exactly as designed. There is nothing to be repaired or fixed ... except latent anger and a resolve never to buy the brand again.

This narrative is loosely based on a true story. Lest you blame this all on user error, it turns out that one of our more tech-savvy employees rented a car from the same brand this week. He was excited to see if his rental car’s robot was better than his own car’s limited, but reliable, voice capabilities. He had to break out the manual before leaving the rental lot.

Bottom line:
Apple has the highest market capitalization in the history of the world. They have two sorts of customers: (1) those attracted to their products, and (2) those pissed off with other's products. Apple products do not really need instruction manuals - a fact they delight in. Why can't the OEMs design their infotainment systems with a similar law of design? In my iPhone's settings, I can turn Siri off.

But, this is all beside the point. The folks who are in charge of customer care-and-feeding for 5.5 years of original ownership have little to say to the folks who design the product's attraction for the 55 minutes it takes to sell the car. The problem is that we've changed the game. It's no longer about fixing broken cars and trucks. It's about fixing broken customers.

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