GM Customer Reps Go Along for the Ride

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A car accident, stolen vehicle, lost vehicle or key locked inside are only some of the problems that now can be addressed immediately by calling the General Motors' OnStar division call center from inside or outside of your car.


The OnStar system uses GPS and cellular technology to link to the center, which offers customers three categories of service - emergency service, convenience service and roadside assistance. The call center can be accessed through a toll-free number by a regular phone, or now, by a new system of three buttons located above the driver's side windshield in select GM vehicles.


The emergency services line immediately contacts a user with an advisor.


"If a person feels they are having a heart attack, because we can track where the vehicle is located, we can get 911 sent to [his or her] location," said Jodi Boik-Belyea, operations manager at the OnStar center. "With the information we have available, we can find where the nearest PSAP is available, and get them to a person as soon as possible."


There also is an automatic notification system where the call center is immediately contacted once a car's airbag has been deployed. The advisor, who speaks through the stereo speakers, then finds out how severe the situation is and determines whether the police or an ambulance need to be notified.


When a driver is lost, he or she can contact an OnStar representative who will help provide directions or help locate the nearest store or hotel.


"Our representatives have a database of over five million listings at their disposal," Boik-Belyea said. "We like to say we can help people find anything from airports to zoos."


The service also provides drivers with roadside assistance if it is needed. "If they have a flat tire or something, all they have to do is simply contact us and we can send the roadside assistance, which is provided by GM," Boik-Belyea said.


OnStar also provides tracking of stolen vehicles. If a vehicle is stolen, a person can contact the call centers and provide a representative with a pin number or security code to verify he or she is the owner of the vehicle. From there, the OnStar representative will contact the police once it has found the location of the vehicle.


"We will never disclose the location of the vehicle to the car owner without them first agreeing to bring the authorities into the matter," Boik-Belyea said.


People can also contact OnStar if they lock their keys in the car or are unable to locate their car. From the call center, the representative can either unlock the door or honk the horn and flash the lights to let the driver know where the car is located.


If a driver sees the check engine light go on while they are driving, a remote diagnostics feature allows the OnStar representative to send a message to the car "asking" it what is wrong.


"The return message usually falls into three different buckets," Boik-Belyea said. "Severe, which means we tell them to pull over and stop driving the car; not serious, in which case we tell them they can continue to drive but get it checked out within the next couple of days; or not serious at all, and in this case we just tell them to mention it to the mechanic the next time they bring it in to get serviced."


Belyea would not say what percentage of calls were for each of the three services but described the calls as "covering a wide range of different things."


"We estimate that we have handled about one million calls in the last year," said Geri Lama, a spokeswoman for OnStar. "We will be opening other call centers as the subscriber base for the service grows."


The two call centers currently handling the calls are based in Troy, MI, and Farmington Hills, MI. Users can contact the centers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. OnStar would not disclose the exact number of representatives operating the call center but said the total for both is more than 100.


The feature, which was launched on the 1997 Cadillac model, will soon be available for 31 GM vehicles. Those models include a number of the Cadillacs, Buicks, all mini-vans and small to medium-sized sports utility vehicles as well as mid-size sedans. Over the next eighteen months it is going to be installed in over one million vehicles and will be standard on some and remain optional on others.


OnStar currently has 75,000 subscribers.
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