COVID-19 sped up plans at Mercedes-Benz USA to roll out augmented-reality glasses for dealership service technicians. The glasses already were in the pilot phase before the pandemic.
The glasses allow Mercedes-Benz experts to see remotely what a technician sees in real time, to help diagnose and fix especially complicated problems, without having to visit the dealership in person. The glasses also can display documents or images in the technician’s field of vision.
The company calls the program Virtual Remote Support, which it recently rolled out to all 383 Mercedes-Benz USA dealerships. An initial pilot program at 13 dealerships began in January, before business shutdowns made travel virtually impossible for several weeks this spring.
“Clearly, COVID-19 accelerated the need for us to launch,” says Christian Treiber, vice president-customer service, Mercedes-Benz USA. The Atlanta-based company has 24 field specialists to cover the entire U.S., he says. “We cannot be everywhere at any given time to provide support – until now.”
For dealerships and their customers, the user benefit is faster turnaround on difficult service problems, the kind that otherwise would inconvenience the customer, tie up valuable space in the service department and add to dealership costs for loaner cars, Treiber says in an online press introduction.
The dealership cost to participate is about $10,000 for the hardware (pictured below) and a four-year licensing fee that allows multiple users at the dealership, he says. “The business case for dealers is how quickly they can get the owner’s car fixed,” Treiber says.
For Mercedes-Benz USA, the glasses reduce time and expense devoted to travel and potential exposure to COVID-19. And ultimately, Treiber says, greater customer satisfaction with service pays off in greater loyalty.
In the pilot phase, Treiber says Virtual Remote Support was able to solve roughly 40% of the cases that were presented to the Mercedes-Benz technical experts. With the nationwide rollout, he says the success rate is trending toward 60%.
“There’s still things we need to learn,” he says. For example, even though the augmented-reality sessions are in real time, dealership technicians still need to make an appointment ahead of time. In the future, Treiber says he wants to add the ability to set up sessions as soon as technicians call in, like the brand’s Customer Assistance Center, which fields calls from retail customers as they occur.
Rival Porsche Cars North America also employs augmented-reality glasses (pictured below) with U.S. dealership technicians. Porsche calls its program Tech Live Look. Following a pilot program in 2017, the national rollout of Tech Live Look began in 2018 and was completed in January 2020, the company says.
Tech Live Look uses smartglasses from Osterhout Design Group and the AiR Enterprise software platform from Atheer, according to Porsche Cars North America, also based in Atlanta. The Porsche system can shorten service resolution time up to 40%, the company says.
Mercedes-Benz USA and Microsoft collaborated to develop Virtual Remote Support starting about two years ago, Treiber says. It uses Microsoft HoloLens 2 glasses and Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Remote Assist system.
Treiber says, “We can now resolve issues in minutes or hours, as opposed to days, before.”