From a new rewards program to overhauled dealerships
Ford has 99 million customers globally and adds about 6 million new customers a year. But when it comes to offering a good customer experience that will keep them coming back for more, the automaker is mid-pack.
Not good enough, top leadership said. So Elena Ford was appointed to the new position of Chief Customer Experience Officer in October 2018, and she became a champion for how the company bearing her family name can make it easier to buy, own, and operate a Ford vehicle. The hope is happy customers will buy another Ford and tell their friends to do the same. “We live in a recommendation culture,” Elena Ford said. “Word of mouth makes or breaks.”
The commitment to customer service was lacking, she says, but now it is a priority for top leadership and all parts of the company are working on it. Investment in this area has doubled.
After a year of development, a host of new initiatives will go into place. They range from new types of dealerships to better ways to operate call centers and offer roadside assistance, service, and maintenance, and a new loyalty program for owners.
Benchmarks included Lexus and Toyota, as well as the company’s own Lincoln luxury brand that has made concierge-like service a foundation of its revival. But Elena Ford also spent time meeting with, and taking notes from, companies such as Delta, Starbucks, Marriott hotels, Apple, and JetBlue.
Here are the highlights of what the customer experience team is introducing:
Automakers have never been good at loyalty plans, but Ford is taking a new stab at it with a program that gives you 42,000 points when you buy or lease a new vehicle. Points are also earned with service appointments or the purchase of tires or other parts. The 42,000 points is enough to cover the first three service appointments, or they can be saved for a larger repair later, to buy aftermarket parts, or help pay for a new car. Executives say 100 percent of Ford dealers have enrolled in the program and the points can be used anywhere in the country.
New customer call center in Houston
This is the new model for call centers in the future. Opening next week, a new nationwide call center in Houston brings on 500 people and introduces a model where the customer service rep who answers your call stays with you to address your problem instead of transferring you from person to person. It is a model Lincoln adopted with success.
The automaker is also improving the service you get from calling into the FordPass center because you are locked out of your car, need information on the rewards program, or have a question about your Sync infotainment system. Those who work on roadside assistance are also rethinking how they triage calls from those in distress.
Ford is running a pilot program with five mobile service trucks, starting with one operated by a dealer in California. Four more will be added this month using a dealer in Texas, Illinois, New Jersey, and Florida. The high-top F-350s have the equipment needed to come to you to perform an oil change, tire rotation, light repairs or maintenance, software updates, and recalls. The dealer owns and operates the van, and sets pricing and appointments.
At dealerships, express service bays will be staffed to handle oil changes and light repairs in 60 minutes or less.
To address the growing shortage of technicians, Ford is working to encourage high school students to pursue this career path. Dealers are working with junior colleges while Ford provides vehicles, engines, and transmissions to classrooms.
Renew that lease
To address the confusing and stressful act of renewing a lease, Ford Credit will have a team of personal lease assistants to help, starting about four months before the lease expires. A new Drive New Now website will have personalized information. Knowing the model you are turning in, it will find a vehicle with the same trim level and features that’s available at a nearby dealership. It will also show upgraded models that are immediately available for consideration.
Traditional dealerships or Signature stores are being redesigned to be more inviting and user-friendly, knowing most people have done their online homework and have arrived to finalize the deal. There will be 300 in place globally by the end of the year.
Ford is also introducing mini outlets, or Smart Labs, in high traffic main areas of malls where shoppers can view a few models and take a test drive with the small fleet parked outside. One in a mall in Turin, Italy, sells about 50 cars a month which are delivered via a dealership about 15 miles (24 km) away. There will be six in total this year in the U.S., Canada, and Germany, and the first one is to open in Brussels, Belgium.
Another initiative called Ford Points puts smaller, 300,000 sq.-ft. dealerships in rural areas with the first one operating in Thailand.