What’s that car button for? Local dealership adds IT desk for customers

When someone bought a new car in the 1990s, they could take the keys and go. Now as cars become more like computers, Lexus of Dayton says car owners need ongoing help from IT staff so they can understand the advanced software that comes with their new vehicle.

A recent $3.5 million remodel of the Washington Twp. dealership includes an IT work station for car owners to get help from full-time staff who help car owners understand everything from working the navigation system to connecting their phone’s blue tooth to customizing a luxury car’s advance climate control settings.

Dealerships across the state are facing the same changes as car buyers increasingly need ongoing tech support to understand all the software that comes with their new vehicle.

“Twenty years ago, when a consumer went into a dealership, the delivery process was ‘here are the keys, gas on the right, break on the left, have fun.’ Today there’s so much technology in these vehicles … you just can’t cover it all at once,” said Zach Doran, president of the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association.

The dealership’s evolution to needing full-time IT staff reflects how today’s car buyers sometimes need ongoing tech help with their vehicles in the same way they might need help with their laptops or phones.

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“This past week we’ve had guests who picked up a car and they’ve been back five times,” said Colin Frake, technology specialist with Lexus of Dayton.

Doran said some dealerships even host classes for car owners to stop by and learn all the safety and convenience technology in their cars.

For Lexus of Dayton, this region is different than some other Lexus markets. People in the Dayton region who have grown their wealth to the point where they are buying a luxury car are often older than people in other markets and typically less technology adept, officials with the dealership said.

Some high tech features that are popular in other markets — like the ability to have the Lexus access mobile apps like Pandora — are features that Frake said most customers he works with have little interest in.

General Manager Jeff Pizza said since the brand began, its gone from heated seats, to heated and cooled seats, to software that’s a “climate concierge” that once the software is programmed you theoretically never have to think about it again as it reacts to your body temperature and ambient temperature in the vehicle and constantly maintains a comfortable level for you and the seat.

“Now its gone to the next level where in our 2018 LS 500, it will now involve a Shiatsu massage and 28 way adjustable seats, and all of this is controlled by software,” Pizza said.

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Frake said when he’s hiring someone for an IT position he asks them to describe how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and he sees how they think and explain a topic what might seem like a simple topic. It takes a specific skill set to walk a customer through an IT problem on their car if they aren’t tech savvy enough to describe the problem technology.

Some might need a tutorial of their cellphone first and then get a walk through how the car’s technology can interact with their phone. Frake said he’s talked with customers who bought cars who don’t have email addresses or just have flip phones that aren’t compatible with all the luxury car’s advanced technology.

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“You’ll have people who obviously aren’t unintelligent, but aren’t generationally familiar with how to describe what their issue is,” said Frake.

As the software has gotten more advance, the paper car manuals have grown to 600 to 800 pages for most of their cars with one manual more than 1,000 pages, though most car buyers don’t want the actual manual and some cars like the LC 500 have animated in-car video tutorials that can play on the dashboard so car owners can access those tutorials when they need it.

“Every time they release a new car I have to go through a process of learning and figuring out what the majority of guests are going to gravitate toward and also pick up other stuff for the one or two who will want to know ‘Oh what does all this do,’” said Frake.

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