By on November 27, 2012

In-car entertainment and navigation systems bamboozle customers and ruin the out-of-the-box experience.”You see a lot of people get into the vehicle, and they can’t figure out the damned system,” Mark Harland, manager of GM’s connected customer team, told Reuters. “They get frustrated, and they get online and bash it, and that ends up on J.D. Power and Associates.” GM decided to do something about it. Will it make the damned systems more intuitive? No, it throws 25 people into the fight against technological ignorance. It has been tried before …

GM thinks the problem is not the system, it’s the damned dealer that won’t explain the damned system. GM sends 25 tech-savvy specialists to its 4,400 U.S. dealerships to show how to teach customers about technology. GM’s geek squad is backed-up by a dedicated team at GM’s call center. According to the report, “GM is also requiring that its dealers have at least one staff member trained in all of GM’s in-car systems – MyLink, CUE and IntelliLink – by the end of this year.”

Years ago, when I advised a very large European carmaker in these and other matters, the company had similarly huge problems with then much simpler technology.

For instance, car radios were swapped several times under warranty because the volume was changing without anyone touching the dial. The swaps did not fix the problem. Customers became upset and satisfaction scores plummeted. After months of drama, it emerged that it wasn’t a bug, it was a feature: The volume adapted to in-car noise, actually, the volume rose and dropped with the speed of the car, but nobody had told the customer. Or the service writer.

Like GM now, the large European OEM that starts with “V” and ends in “olkswagen” sicced trainers at dealers and required them to explain the verdammte System to the verdammte Kunde. The dealers said this would take at least an hour each, they would rather use the time to sell cars, and if the car company really wants them to teach tech to the uninitiated, then only in exchange for a horrendous hourly fee. Thus ended the project.

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55 Comments on “GM Mobilizes Geek Squad, But Should Have Talked To Me First...”


  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Bertel, that’s sicced, not sicked though the experience probably did that. :)

    I notice that they put the black guy in the back… again. Probably unintentional but the optics! C’mon GM. Smarten up!

    • 0 avatar

      If you say so. My spehl checkers hated sicced (and suggested sacked and sucked) but loved sicked …

      The black guy looks like a photoshopped quota shot.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Dimwit: Why do you assume this is an official GM photo and not something from iStockphoto or Googled? Actually, this pix is so badly composed, it has to be a candid shot by a co worker or something.

      The last time we bought new, we replaced a car we were already familiar with; the only ‘new’ item on it was OnStar. The way they got us to familiarize ourselves with OnStar was to have it guide us home. All six miles of the journey home.

      Ratcheting backward in time, our Pontiacs and Chevys had all been explained to us pretty well for the limited amount of electronics that were in them. In the last 5 or so years, the amount of electronics seems to have increased at exponential rates.

      Whether the dealers like it or not, more time will be spent doing this, one way or another. Go for the concierge style treatment, the clientele will love it.

  • avatar
    kitzler

    was a Kunde for an Audi this year, not a verdamnte Kunde, just a Kunde, and was treated to over an hour with my salesperson, describing every detail of the car, hooking up my cell phone, only thing he did not activate is the homelink which BTW needed the receiver nearby. My friend got almost the same treatment at Mercedes on a lowly C model, this kind of service never happened at Lexus or GM. Granted the software in the car sometimes goes haywire, but having been properly inducted by my salesman, it is a cinch to fix. Von einem befriedigenten Kunde

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    This story offers one reason why VW dealers have such a terrible reputation. As sales associates, explaining the features of the cars they are trying to sell is their job. They should already be doing this upfront as part of the sales process. And they are supposed to do it again when the customer takes deliver. VW should have put the screws to uncooperative dealers instead of folding their tents and going home.

    The only time I bought new was an 02 Mazda Protege, and the sales guy was insistent on telling me all about the cars features when I took deliver. It took a lot of convincing from me to just let me drive away, as there wasn’t much to explain. In retrospect, this is funny because a VW dealer was under the same roof.

    • 0 avatar
      rnc

      South Carolina by chance?

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      To be frank, anything that distracts a salesperson from the actual process of selling is a complete waste of his time and skill.

      Handovers of sold vehicles, and the accompanying instructions, would be better accomplished by a different, dedicated, employee of the dealership.

      I make this comment as a former car salesperson, former dealership sales manager and former independent auto sales operator.

  • avatar
    tuffjuff

    The guy who sold me my 2012 Focus hatch didn’t know that the reason the car chimed when he opened the door was because the automatic headlights were set, manually, to “on” for whatever reason.

    He didn’t know THE LIGHTS WERE ON.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      A Ford salesman showing me a Focus couldn’t figure out how to tune the radio, nor did he know the back could fold flat. He also couldn’t figure out how to make the interior lights work.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        If your suggestion is that salesmen don’t know dick about their own products, then you wouldn’t get any argument from me. I had to once explain to a Ford salesman that the Expedition EL actually exists. He had never heard of it and actually pulled the catalog to make sure.

      • 0 avatar
        Loser

        Back in 1988 a Ford salesman and the manager insisted that I could not order a 5.0 Mustang LX coupe, said it was for police use only.

        Pontiac salesman told me my GTO was front drive.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        It’s a combination of salesman ignorance and poorly designed controls.

      • 0 avatar
        LeBaron

        Ford system is a nuisance. I don’t need the radio flashing a “buckle up to unmute audio”. And I wear seat belts. I also do not like a radio without a tuning knob. It’s a lot easier to tune than pushing a button 100 times to get to the station you want.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    There is a book read many moons ago…..”Unfriendly Skies” written by an anonymous pilot in an humorous fashion.
    It describes many, if not all, of the things that we love to loathe in air flight.

    There is a chapter dedicated to engineering foibles. I particularly remember one software “feature” included in a new generation of aircraft. It was called something like “un-sympathetic stop”. It would completely shut down ALL engines if the computer sensed that there was something wrong during takeoff.
    Now, I’m not a pilot, but have been explained that once that the aircraft reaches certain critical ground speed, your best bet for survival is to -somehow- become airborne. One will not become airborne if all engines are shut down.

    It took the cries of the Pilot’s union, which refused to pilot the plane unless the “feature” was completely removed, to change the software.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      It’s called V1 speed, but I doubt the plane would engage the “unsympathetic stop” when above V1. I think you’re summarizing this incorrectly, but it’s fair for the pilots to make sure that this feature doesn’t automatically shut down engines so that they could make a different decision under the circumstances if necessary.

  • avatar
    brettc

    When I picked up my Jetta Sportwagen 3 months ago, the sales guy spent probably 30 minutes explaining things and pairing our phones to the car. Much better sales experience than in 2003 when I bought a Jetta new.

    Hard to believe that VW dealers could be dumb enough to not know that VW radios have adaptive audio. Amazing!

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      “Hard to believe that VW dealers could be dumb enough to not know that VW radios have adaptive audio. Amazing!”

      Agree, but people could also RTFM. Even many domestic cars have had vehicle-speed-compensating features for a while — both radio volume and wiper speed.

      How stupid does a dealer service department have to be to not know about this feature? It’s just RTFM.

      • 0 avatar
        andyinsdca

        RTFM? Are you SERIOUS? My 2006 BMW 325i has a manual that is 166 pages long (in PDF format), plus a couple more incidental manuals that I forget what they’re for. I can’t imagine the phonebook that comes with a modern car with something like Ford’s Sync or a new iDrive BMW. And, some manuals aren’t printed, they come on CD/DVD, which means you can’t have it open in your lap to follow when you’re doing something.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        My 98 Chevy Blazer had adaptive audio, a little sub-set knob near the volume control where you could set how much you wanted your audio to ‘adapt’ from a lot to totally off.

        The dealer explained it to me in under 5 minutes.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    My most recent new-vehicle purchase was a 1995 Ford Ranger XL. It was a 100% base model – no radio, no a/c, no carpet, vinyl bench, etc.

    The final step of the purchase process was that the salesman was required to show me all the “features” of my new truck. The speech went something like this:

    “There’s the heater. Enjoy your new truck.”

  • avatar
    kitzler

    Vielen Dank Bertel, du schreibst immer viele interessanten Artikel

  • avatar

    Part of me yearns for a return to the two-knob audio controls of the past. Left: off/on volume, with a “ring” for tone control. Right: tune the station or scroll through song choices, the matching “ring” can change function (am/fm/sat/aux). With variations to account for bass/midrange/treble/hz cuts on the left ring if need be. Something like that.

    It started with first designer who decided tap-tap-tapping on the correct momentary contact rocker switch was an improvement (it wasn’t). Now, we have the analog of that rendered in touch sensitive screens that work if I manage to touch it right *there* to accomplish something. Not progress, particularly.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      While I don’t like the ergonomics of the ‘rings,’ I agree completely about the tap-tap-tapping. Nothing that is a part of normal operation (especially while driving) should ever be in a menu. (Balance, fade, equalizer, settings/set-up, etc, are typically once-and-done, so menus are fine for them.)

  • avatar
    KixStart

    When I bought my new Toyota, the salesperson offered to connect up my Bluetooth devices and program the radio. I declined, on the theory that I’d eventually want to know how to do this myself.

    As a customer, I think I’d expect the sales staff to acquaint the buyer with the car to whatever extent necessary.

    Of course, if the cars are so awful that you don’t expect repeat business, then time spent on customer satisfaction with training is probably time wasted.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    I stand corrected. I read the book many years ago.

  • avatar
    svan

    Looks like VW listened to the dealers. The program didn’t end there.

    When I bought a new Golf from Queensway VW in Toronto in August, during delivery they made particular effort to explain the car to my wife who was picking it up, including very specifically that the stereo system volume will change with vehicle speed.

    The dealer then very specifically asked us to give them all ten’s on the customer survey VW was going to send us, including special emphasis on the fact we were given a tour of the car.

    I imagine there’s money on the table for the dealer, or they wouldn’t care about it.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    I only wish there was a way to turn off all this tech. The steering wheel of my new CC has about 10 or 12 buttons on it. A steering wheel, for crying out loud. Is this really what consumers want? If I turn the wheel and my finger accidentally touches the phone switch, a lady from somewhere under the dash starts nagging me about setting up my cell phone. I haven’t figured out a way to shut her up. So I have to listen to her whine until she finally says good bye in a nasty tone. It’s bad enough to have a woman at home nag you. We all signed up for that. But who needs it from your car?

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      I don’t mean to sound like That Guy, but how often do you accidentally hit the steering wheel controls while you’re driving?

      • 0 avatar
        Advo

        Us guys manage to hit the nag button quite often!

      • 0 avatar
        mpresley

        It only happens when I keep my hands on the wheel.

      • 0 avatar
        Signal11

        The reason I ask is that I rarely, if ever, do I accidentally hit the steering wheel controls on any vehicle I’m driving, which tend to be on the wheel spokes. I drive a lot of unfamiliar vehicles on a regular basis, so (don’t mean anything by this) I’m wondering if it’s something to do with the way that you drive not so much as a fault of the vehicle. For example, my daily drivers over the past three months have been three consecutive German vehicles, all with an inordinate amount of controls on the spokes.

      • 0 avatar
        Les

        I’ve never done this on my Kia, nor did I do it on any of the other vehicles I’d test-driven/sat-in….

        …except, for that one Volkswagen Golf, which I managed to do before covering the first five feet of my test-drive.

        Not all ergonomics are created equal. ;p

    • 0 avatar
      LeBaron

      And dialing On-Star while wiping the rear view mirror is real easy, too. Especially on the frameless mirrors.I’ve found myself explaining to the nice lady a couple of times that I really didn’t need anything, sorry.

  • avatar
    Slab

    I have a VW, and after experimenting with all the different speed-sensitive radio selections, I just turned them off. The car’s not much louder at 65 than 45. Yet the radio would blast your eardrums on the freeway. The bigger problem is fan noise from the A/C.

  • avatar
    DrunkenDonuts

    As someone who has worked in retail and with computers, read the instruction manual. Next step is to RE-READ the instruction manual. Then figure the system out. When you’re done doing that, read the instruction manual if you’re still confused. Yeah, the dealers should explain to you the gist of what the system is capable of, but if you’re buying a vehicle it’s YOUR responsibility to learn how to operate it. As with computers, learn the operating system. You’ll save dealer and yourself time and hassle.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    Maybe I’m just a simpleton…. but if the car needs so much explaining, why not make the car simpler?

    All older cars I can drive without reading the manual. I even could swap out the radio on my own…now we have progress and I need training in how to turn on the radio? Really, that is progress?

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    I remember reading something that I think relates to this.

    It had to do with the design of cockpits for fighters. It went something like this.

    Why do engineers put all these little buttons and functions all over the place, when I’m in combat I don’t have time to go searching for the right buttton/toggle/switch/dial.

    Pilots want great big buttons to hit and to keep things simple, engineers just want to make everything complicated.

    Looking at modern car interiors, I think a lot of manufacturers are way too far into the complexity mode and not far enough into the “simple is best” mode.

    I look at modern interiors, especially many luxury brands, and I nearly shudder (that’s with over 14 years of IT experience). Then I go look at something simple like the interior of a Kia Soul and I go.. hey they get it. It’s simple, I like that, easy to use and I don’t have to read a 400 page manual/instruction book or listen to 2 hours of instructional videos to figure out how to use it.

    Complexity while driving = dangerous.

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      I think in an actual combat engagement, fighter pilot’s are HOTAS (Hands On Stick And Throttle).

      • 0 avatar
        daveainchina

        I was trying to avoid acronyms, I don’t think HOTAS per se is relevant to the point I was making.

        But I will confide that my flight sims all use HOTAS and have for years, I can’t imagine flying a plane in a simulator without them.

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      “… I don’t think HOTAS per se is relevant to the point I was making.”

      HOTAS (Hands On Throttle and Stick) is exactly the point. It was developed so pilots could easily control those systems that were vital when doing hard (pulling multiple g) air combat maneuvering.

      Those buttons that were placed around the cockpit we’re moved to within finger tip reach either on the throttle or stick. HOTAS makes it simple.

      • 0 avatar
        daveainchina

        Uh no.. Hotas does NOT give full functionality of the cockpit otherwise there wouldn’t be more buttons in the cockpit..

        and yes you are missing my point. HOTAS takes training to use and isn’t that simple.

        HOTAS is a compromise system between engineers and pilots to allow pilots to do their job. Engineers wanted smaller and smaller buttons whereas pilots want big red buttons that are easy to hit without looking.

        Most cars have something like this with steering wheel controls, the thing is, aside from a gps system, most car commands are pretty simple,(change radio/track,change temperature, change road condition/performance) the tendency of auto makers and especially luxury automakers currently is to give lots of choice to the point that the average driver is overwhelmed. This is bad.

        Big easy simple systems are best for most drivers. The rest just adds to driver distraction, case in point the original BMW idrive, heck even the current iDrive is too complex for use while driving. Cadillac CUE is horrible for the same reason, and look at the dissatisfaction with the Ford Mylink system.

        Just because you can set up a bunch of parameters while sitting still in these vehicles doesn’t mean that conditions don’t change and you want a different setting.

        Apple does this very well, they basically tell you how to use your computer/iDevice whereas Windows/Android tries to give you lots of choice which adds to the complexity. So what happens is that in general people enjoy the Apple ecosystem better.

        Lastly comparing a Fighter pilot’s HOTAS system again is bad because a Fighter pilot’s job is to fly the plane. VERY VERY few people’s job is to drive a car, it’s usually sitting in an office/retail/warehouse/construction site somewhere. Hence they are not constantly training on how to operate their vehicle.

        I’m sure if someone’s job was to just drive a Cadillac CUE system, they’d have no issues with it either over time, but your average consumer has lot’s better things to do than constantly study how to use overly complex systems in their car.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        “Uh no.. Hotas does NOT give full functionality of the cockpit otherwise there wouldn’t be more buttons in the cockpit.. ”

        I never said HOTAS gives full functionality. I did say it gives pilots easy access to critical systems when engaged in a fight. And you’re right HOTAS is not easy to use and does require training.

        And yes, it is a compromise between designers, operators and maintainers but that’s true for most if not all systems.

        I agree with your main point that easy to read, simple systems are best for most drivers. I love technology and I don’t understand the need for a touch screen interface or for that matter an iDrive/MMI type one either. I’m fine with buttons and knobs for the radio, hvac, seat heater etc.

        I don’t know if these car systems are being influenced by those in aviation but if they are (and even if they’re not) it would be nice if designers recognized the differences between the two operators.

        You already mentioned training which is big and so is the environment in which you operate. When flying an aircraft there’s not much you can hit but when driving a car potential insurance claims are everywhere.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Expedition EL does indeed exist, I have the “pleasure” of removing paint overspray on one last week as part of a detail job I did for a friend of my wife’s. Big damn beast!

    tech stuff – there is a guy at me local Ford dealer that is the tech guru and everyone that needs it – gets time with him, I like the choice option.

  • avatar
    kitzler

    I am not sure who said it before me, but actually whoever has to switch cars among a lot of different makes, all this telematics crap must drive them up the wall, literally, it is already bad enough switching from one German to another german car,but going from the German system, incidentally with the fuel tank on the right, to a Japanese system, with fuel tank on the left, must be mind numbing.

    Perhaps a uniform set of standards is what is truly needed.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    From the first two minutes of my test drive on an Audi Q7, I was fluent in MMI. Same when I test drove a Yukon Denali.

    I think that it has more to do with the users refusal to learn, than it does the vehicle itself. But then again, I did take some College computer programming classes in High School…

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      Don’t pat yourself on the back too much there. In a recent Audi rental I was in, it only took me a few minutes to connect my phone, change the default language and set a destination with the built in navigator. MMI is fairly intuitive.

      OTOH, in the previous month, I had spent a month and a half in a Mercedes-Benz E350 that had the most awful controls imaginable. Using it at a daily driver, I never quite figured out how to get everything to without spending minutes fiddling with the controls.

      It has everything to do with the vehicle’s human interface design.

      I’ve been using computers since I was a kid, and am something between an amateur and pro in the field of computer-human interaction, meaning that if you use one of a few smaller, specific Linux distros, you might have seen some of my work. If someone like me is stumbling around in your user interface design, it is not me who has the problem, but your UI.


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