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Ford's Sync takes on General Motors' OnStar with live operators

Mon, 11 Jul 2011 00:00:00 -0700

Ford Motor Co. is taking on General Motors' OnStar system by offering live operator assistance.

Ford's new feature, called Operator Assist, offers live operators to help Sync Services subscribers find a business or get turn-by-turn directions. OnStar offers a similar service.

The enhanced service is in a trial phase, Ford said. It is available to Sync Services users with 2010, 2011 and 2012 models.

Ford spokesman Alan Hall said the automaker plans to use feedback from the live trial this summer to determine how and whether to continue the service.

Doug VanDagens, Ford's director of connected services solutions organization, said, "By leveraging what's available in the cloud, we continue to innovate and improve our customers' experience without having to touch the vehicle or inconvenience the owner."

Ford's Sync is an in-vehicle infotainment system that pairs with a driver's Bluetooth mobile device for hands-free operation. Sync Services is a cloud-based, on-demand and voice-activated service that provides information about traffic, news, sports, weather, horoscopes, stock quotes and movie listings along with business searches and turn-by-turn directions.

Sync has not offered live operators before. Operator Assist is for registered users of Sync Services at no extra charge. No additional software or hardware is needed.

Operator Assist will give drivers a choice of interacting with a live operator or using a voice recognition system, said David Gersabeck, Ford's product manager for Sync Services.

At any time during a search for a business or while receiving directions, a driver can say "operator" to be connected to a person. Gersabeck said drivers asked for this type of service because their voice request was not always understood by the system.

"We want Ford Sync Services customers to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing they can get where they're going or want to go," Gersabeck said. "Being able to connect with a live person at any time contributes to that peace of mind."

About 70 percent of calls to Sync are for business searches and/or directions, Gersabeck said. Sync Services has more than 14 million business listings.

GM's OnStar telematics is known for its call center with live operators. OnStar's advertising has featured live operators offering subscribers turn-by-turn directions and emergency assistance among other things.

To better compete with OnStar's emergency response service, Ford added its "911 Assist" service to Sync in 2008.

When an airbag is deployed, "911 Assist" quickly connects vehicle occupants to local emergency personnel--provided the occupant's mobile phone is synced to the vehicle.

By Jamie LaReau- Automotive News