SPARTA — As automakers increasingly load their vehicles with new technology and complex infotainment systems, dealerships are fielding more questions from confused and often frustrated customers.
Recognizing the need to help educate customers about how to operate their new cars and trucks, Sparta Chevrolet decided to hire its own in-house tech geek: Zach Doerr, a 25-year-old certified technology expert.
Because cars are so complex these days, buyers struggle to learn it on their own, said Doerr, who believes his educational sessions at the dealership are changing how the company interacts with its customers.
“With all of the technology in the new vehicles, there’s a lot of stuff for customers (to understand),” Doerr told MiBiz. “Even the touchscreen — it’s like having an iPad in your truck. … A lot of the older customers we have, the more seasoned customers we have, aren’t really in touch with that kind of stuff.”
Sparta Chevrolet started to offer the service more than two years ago after the dealership sensed a technology upheaval, said General Manager Chad Vanderhyde. The company created the new position without extra funding from General Motors because management felt it would improve the vehicle delivery process, while also freeing up the sales staff to focus on getting another sale, he added, noting customers’ rave reviews have served as validation.
“The technology has come so far, and there’s so much of it, and it varies between model lines,” Vanderhyde said. “It’s hard anymore for salespeople to concentrate on everything they have to know about, and then they … have to set up (the technology), to get it to work, to be able to explain it to customers. It’s a whole other ball game. That’s where we pulled Zach in, to have someone who can specialize in it and not worry about anything else.”
Doerr said one of his tech-education sessions might range anywhere from 25 minutes with a more tech-savvy customer to 90 minutes for a beginner. Additionally, clients often follow-up with questions over the phone or via in-person meetings, he added.
Most car infotainments system use Bluetooth technology, “which can be a complicated thing” for novice customers to understand, said Doerr, adding that many new vehicles also come with Wi-Fi capabilities or phone applications that allow customers to lock and unlock car doors.
“For an older customer, it blows their mind,” Doerr said. “So to have somebody like me where I can kind of sit down with them, take time with them and teach them the processes I go through (is important). There’s a lot of buttons in these new vehicles, and I literally go over every button and show them how it works.”
Vanderhyde said this makes the delivery process “a lot more uniform,” ensuring that customers are “now getting a quality delivery.”
“Sometimes you’d get customers that’d get a real good delivery on this half of the car, but some of the others the (salesperson) might not have been able to touch on,” he said. “It really makes it nice that when (Zach) does the Bluetooth session, then he can go through the whole thing and everyone can see him.
“There’s enough cool stuff the vehicles do, and if you don’t start using it or if you don’t ask … you won’t know the full capacity (of the vehicle).”
Doerr described Sparta Chevrolet’s move to offer technology training for customers as a good “proactive” measure to improve the overall buying experience.
Other West Michigan dealers have also started to offer the service, whether by mandate of the OEM or on their own.
“It really varies depending on the manufacturer,” said Jerry Moore, West Michigan division director at Grand Rapids-based Fox Motor Group LLC, noting that Ford and Subaru both require dealerships to have an on-site tech specialist to help customers.
Moore said Ford was ahead of the curve by establishing the requirement four to five years ago. Additionally, Fox Motors trains its sales staff on the technology inside the vehicles, Moore said, adding that the company has a redelivery process to help customers.
“I believe (tech positions) will continue to grow, as tech continues to advance,” Moore said.