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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Car Brands Also Aim At Creating Customer 'Geniuses'

The success of Apple as a retailing giant, as well as a product developer and marketer, has spawned lots of imitators and would-be imitators.

And at this point, no industry is trying to mimic Apple's hands-on approach as much as the auto industry. In fact, this movement among car brands carries lots of potential for transforming a vehicle-purchase experience that still ranks right up there with public speaking as one of the leading anathemas to American consumers.

It seems that every time you turn around, one car brand or another is announcing a new emphasis on boosting dealership and early-ownership experiences for their customers by establishing their own version of the Apple Genius Bar.

The latest hand-raiser: General Motors, which is now dispatching 25 tech-savvy specialists to its 4,400 U.S. dealerships to show staffers how to teach customers about technology, according to Automotive News, and admittedly stealing a page from the Apple playbook.

Auto-industry initiatives also have involved setting up or expanding dedicated cadres of "technology" or "delivery" specialists in the showroom who are allocated the time and the training to hold the hands of new customers and walk them through the always-complex, sometimes-confusing gauntlet of learning a new vehicle's "infotainment" systems.

Such technologies have become a driving force in the industry's attempts to bring new and intriguing features to American consumers. But botching the handoff from gleaming showroom enticement to how customers actually manipulate the systems once they're on their own also has been an Achilles' heel for some -- notably Ford, whose ham-handed introduction of the MyFord Touch introduction two years ago is still hurting them in consumer esteem and third-party ratings.

We're encouraged by how deliberating automakers are addressing this entire new arena of customer satisfaction and, in fact, are attempting to leverage it into another powerful instrument for branding. "Customer experience" will never be taken for granted again.

And the brands that do the best job on this new frontier stand a good chance of picking up market share to reflect it.

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