Automotive Culture Needs an Empathy Reboot

DashboardSymbols.com was founded on the basis that the industry was leaving its driver’s behind at critical points in the driving experience – namely when something goes wrong. Recent events reinforce this basis.

First, General Motors and the ongoing saga surrounding very, very bad ignition switches. Evidence continues to point to GM treating the problem as a customer satisfaction issue early on and later to discover how to alter the behavior of their customers in order to rectify the problem of their cars shutting down unexpectedly. At first, the company warned against possibly hitting the ignition key with a knee or a bag, or some other foreign object and thus turning off the car. Later, drivers were instructed not hang heavy items on key chains, a warning that remains in force for cars not yet serviced in a recall.

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Second, we got a call from a Kia Motors customer who tried to determine in advance of the battery in his key fob going dead just how to start a 2014 Optima. No one in sales or service at the dealership where he bought the car actually knew! They each pointed to a slot in the glove box, which had been removed for the 2014 model year. The customer called Kia’s California headquarters where he Kia/Hyun Start Style 6was told that the start button is simply to be pushed by the key fob itself if the fob’s battery goes flat. He called us since we turned up in a search for the answer, and we had it wrong too! We had the procedure, but not for the 2014 Optima. (We had access only to the 2013 model year manual and have since confirmed his answer and updated this website’s posting.)

In both stories, one element of a car company serving the public got it wrong – at corporate in the first instance and at the dealership level in the second. The underlying issue to us at DashboardSymbols.com is a lack of empathy for customers. It is far too easy and convenient to look for where a customer is misusing the equipment or to leave them to their own devices rather than to expend energy looking for a possible problem or a real answer. Even as there was ample evidence that several parties at GM knew the ignition switches were bad, others at the company who were hearing complaints failed to go beyond looking for how the customer might have caused the problem. And anyone at the Kia store (who will remain nameless) could have opened the owner’s manual from a new Optima and supplied the correct answer.

These problems are not confined to GM or to Kia dealerships. They are part of a culture deeply entrenched with service and sales personnel who all too often quite frankly see their customers as stupid. “Not that question again!” And they are just as entrenched at the corporate level as evidenced by the growing number of tell tales thrown into cars with little regard for the average Joe who just needs to get the kids to school on time and get to work. The car culture puts a new system in a car, and makes a new tell tale. Over 270 of them on DashboardSymbols.com and growing.

BMW Cylinder CoverAnd adding insult to injury, there are now 11 manufacturers building cars with hidden key holes, and not one has thought to put the instructions in an app for a locked-out customer to reference. Its in the manual after all – locked in the car.  The customer is supposed to remember having been shown. Once. As if anyone really learns anything that way.

A little empathy, a little walk a mile in their shoes, rather than the cynicism will go a long way at GM, and the industry as a whole, to change the current culture. Or at least soften it.

And since we’re not holding our breath, we’ll keep adding information at DashboardSymbols.com and to our mobile apps.

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At DashboardSymbols.com, we developed two Mobile Apps to help drivers with the most common questions asked of service departments everywhere: “What is this light on my dashboard?” And “My car says ‘Key Not Detected’. How do I get into and start my push-button start car?” With these two apps, we have your six. Check them out here.

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