GM Turns to Apple for Inspiration on Customer Training

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General Motors (GM) is looking to companies like Apple and Best Buy for ways to improve customer training on so-called in-vehicle technology. The company is in the midst of deploying specialists to its dealers to train staff on how to train customers, and if you've ever bought a car from a dealership you'll probably find the concept novel.

GM Genius Bar

As cars get more and more touch-screen and voice-activated controls and features in their cars, many customers don't know what to do with it or how to use it.

"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 wants to change that, and to do so, Mr. Harland said that car companies should be looking to Apple, which has its wildly successful Genius Bar, and Best Buy, which has won praise for its Geek Squad help desks.

Among the steps GM is taking is deploying 25 tech specialists—Reuters noted that most of them are in their 20s—to its dealers to train staff at those dealerships on how to then train their customers. Even for those dealerships where sales people or customer care staff members know how to uses in-vehicle systems themselves, knowing-how-to-use is often far different from knowing-how-to-train.

There are 4,400 dealerships in the U.S., however, which means this program is going to take time, as each specialist will have to visit 176 dealerships unless they add more.

Reuters reported that GM is opening a dedicated team at its Austin call center to answer questions about in-vehicle technology. The company is also requiring its dealerships to have a minimum of one employee who has been trained on all of GM's different systems.

Image made with help from Shutterstock.

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That's not quite the same as opening a Genius Bar on the showroom floors of its dealerships, but if the company executes, it could represent a step forward in making these new in-vehicle systems work better for customers.

More importantly, if GM does this and is successful with it, it will have a ripple effect throughout the car industry, just as Apple itself has had a ripple effect. GM sees inspiration in Apple's Genius Bar, just as Best Buy did, and staid ol' Microsoft saw inspiration in Apple's retail stores as a whole.

In the end, it's we, the customers, who will benefit.

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The car companies need to make the controls less complex.
I have a 2 year old ford fusion. The sync system, which was designed by MSFT, is very complex to use for me. I found that if I try to do something that I haven’t done for a while, most of the time I have to have another person in the car break out the manual to figure out how to do something. If I have no one else in the car, I am SOL. Which means that I don’t use the system very much at all anymore except for the phone controls which are mostly voice recognition which actually works nicely.

Once when I had the car in for service, I asked about upgrading the sync system which, according to the ford website, I should have been able to do. The service person said that no one understands how to do it and I would need to come back when a specialist from Ford would be at the dealership. Of course the time this person was supposed to be there was at a time I never would be able to get there.


Seriously Bryan, who told you Geek Squad help desks had “won praise?”
Best Buy had better tech support before the introduced Geek Squad.  I liked the old grizzled techies that actually tried to solve your problems.  These new Squad guys are only there to sell replacements.


Easy way for the auto industry to simplify their car tech: install iPad mini tablets in place of whatever they are using.


I completely agree with Neal - this is clearly a problem with auto manufacturers not vetting the technology with potential buyers. “Intuitive” is the word most often associated with an iPad, and if GM is failing to design in-vehicle systems with that goal in mind, no amount of training will help. The resulting decision: “training stupid customers” vs. “designing it correctly in the first place.”

Lee Dronick

Ya have to drive on Liberal Arts Avenue as well as Technology Street.


The sync system, which was designed by MSFT,

The sync system is the reason I did not go with a Focus when I was looking for a car last year. I fix MSFT systems all day. I’ll be damned if I will be stuck at the office because I got a BSOD on my car. I will agree that the car companies need to simplify. This is what they need to copy from apple. I’ve owned my 2012 Civic for a year now and I’m still discovering things it will do. We have a 2005 Prius and we’re still discovering things. Make them intuative and they won’;t need to spend money on training.

Best Buy had better tech support before the introduced Geek Squad.

Funny thing about that. BB Computer Support had a good reputation. Geek Squad had a good reputation. BB bought GS and the result is terrible. I’ve talked to so many people that say that BBGS is primarily interested in selling parts and services. Replace the HDD rather than apply a patch or change a setting.


If they play their cards right, the in-car mobile computing business could be another leg in Apple’s product stool.  I think it has more potential than the living room.


@ Aardman ~ I’m not sure that “product stool” is the metaphor you should have gone for.  grin


I knew it, I knew it someone is not going to let that big fat target pass by.  I certainly wouldn’t have.  But hey, that’s Apple’s own metaphor.

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