LAS VEGAS — Ford executives remain committed to the dealership model and have taken steps to bolster their effectiveness with customers, said Elena Ford, the automaker’s director of customer experience.
Ford tells attendees at Automotive Retail 2022 hosted here by Reuters that the automaker is in the middle of the pack with customer experience but is working hard to get ahead, just like its competitors.
“We look at a lot of benchmarking and we look outside the (automotive) industry,” she says. “I spend a lot of time studying companies like Delta and their customer experience. They are doing really well. We take a look at companies like Chick-fil-A, their franchises, and (how they took) their business to a whole new level.
This translates into more connections between the automaker and its dealer group, training dealers on how to design systems and efficiencies and how to handle customers in specific ways that make them feel “like family”, she says.
One initiative is a Ford Guest Experience pilot that will launch this month. Ford is inviting 10 to 12 dealers, who can each have up to four employees to accompany them, to join them in Detroit and learn about a host of customer service issues such as pickup and delivery. The company plans to start rolling out the service to 1,500 dealerships by July. Ford expects all of its dealerships to offer the service by the end of the year. Other planned trainings include how to help customers who use the automaker’s FordPass Rewards loyalty program, drive-thru options, delivery, online retail and more.
After the Detroit-based training, each dealership will partner for six months with a coach/results manager assigned by the automaker. These coaches will visit their assigned dealerships and work with the dealership to ensure the practices work best for their specific stores.
Other Ford initiatives include redesigning the online retail experience so customers can complete all required paperwork up to certain financing before heading to dealerships. That shouldn’t be a burden because most customers want to test cars, she says. Ford is also working to redefine that experience.
“People absolutely want to test cars,” says Elena Ford, especially when they change models. “It’s very important that they offer test drives on customer terms when it suits them.”
The automaker is also adopting some ideas from its European dealerships, including technologies such as goggles that allow technicians at dealerships to transmit what they see to technicians at Ford headquarters. This results in faster diagnoses and increases customer satisfaction.
“Our dealers are our partners in everything we do; retaining customers retains them at dealerships,” says Elena Ford. “It’s important that they have great relationships with customers.”