I admit that I have a love-hate relationship with the infotainment system equipping my Ford vehicles. I love it when it works as promised — or when I push the right buttons — but I hate it when the voice-recognition technology just can’t make out my Southern accent.
I’ll admit Microsoft and Ford seem to have improved the Ford SYNC over the years. When the system debuted, pairing my cell phone with it was a pretty intensive exercise, but nowadays I can sync my new iPhone 6 without hassle.
I still have trouble getting the system to recognize my Southern drawl. About the only thing I could figure is it was programmed by a Yankee. But as it turns out, Southerners aren’t the only ones having this problem, at least according to J.D. Power’s annual study on vehicle dependability.
Released in late February, the study found that the Top 2 problems reported by car owners after three years of ownership were issues with Bluetooth connectivity and voice-recognition systems misinterpreting commands. And unfortunately for carmakers, technology now plays a critical role in car owners’ perceptions of overall vehicle reliability. The good news for us in the box is in-car technology provides us with another opportunity to promote vehicle service contracts (VSC).
Of course, not being able to sync your Bluetooth-enabled device or not getting an infotainment system to recognize your voice commands aren’t necessarily issues a service contract can address. So I decided to visit my service director, who has been with Langdale Ford his entire career. Sure enough, he said he’s seen a rise in issues with the in-car tech outfitting today’s vehicles. In fact, he said upward of 50% of the work his department performs is related to faulty sensors and computer modules like the ones you find in today’s infotainment and navigation systems.
Heck, even something as simple as the fuel gauge is now displayed as an electronic readout on the car’s dashboard. And those displays aren’t as simple to fix as your customer might think. In many models, the entire electronic dash cluster must be replaced when it quits working. And just imagine the labor required to replace those fancy steering wheel controls.
I often create the need for a VSC by reminding the customer how complicated the non-maintainable electronics are in today’s cars. See, no matter how well a customer maintains or gently drives his car, these items can and will fail. When they do, it’s a major inconvenience and expense.
Call me old fashioned, but I long for a return to those simple knobs and buttons, but I doubt they’ll ever make a comeback, especially when, according to J.D. Power, 15% of new-vehicle buyers avoided a model because it lacked the latest technological features.
If that’s the case, we need to take note and shift our focus to helping customers see how a service contract can cover those items after the traditional warranty period expires.
I’ve mentioned before the term “planned obsolescence,” where products are designed with an artificially limited lifespan. Hey, a company can’t expect to be in business if it builds something that lasts forever. Well, sometimes companies subscribe to this strategy to control costs. So instead of using parts that could last 20 years, a cell phone maker may invest in cheaper parts with a shorter lifespan knowing that consumers won’t want to use the same phone after a certain amount of time.
Speaking of cell phones, many of the cool features they tout have made their way into today’s vehicle designs. And since most of us think nothing of adding a few extra bucks a month to insure our cell phones, why not suggest our customers do the same on a $30,000 car?
I’d recommend visiting with your service and parts department to gather some data on how complicated a repair is when one of these items fail. Ask for some repair orders to build your own evidence manual so you can illustrate to customers just how valuable a VSC can be when problems occur. You’ll probably be surprised at what you learn. I know I was when my service director informed me that the percentage I shared earlier doesn’t include things like cruise control or power windows, locks and seats.
By the way, if you run across an old car with a push-button radio, turn it on. There’s nothing quite like that crackle it makes as you try to find a radio station. Good luck and keep closing!
Marv Eleazer is the F&I director at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. Email him at [email protected]