Loyalty program, mobile service, new showroom concepts in the works
DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. credits a deep understanding of truck customers for the sales success of its F-series line of pickups.
Now the automaker wants to apply that same buyer-centric approach to the overall vehicle purchase process.
Ford on Thursday, May 2nd, announced a series of initiatives designed to improve the customer experience. They include a new loyalty rewards program; redesigned call centers; and pilot programs for a mobile service network, easier lease renewal and new types of showrooms.
Although officials wouldn’t disclose details, they said Ford is doubling the amount of money it spends on customer experience in an effort to improve its standing among rivals such as Toyota.
“We’re sort of middle of the pack,” said Elena Ford, the automaker’s chief customer experience officer and great-great-granddaughter of founder Henry Ford. “We want to grow to be best in class. If we truly want to be serious about customer experience, we have to resource it like we do F-150.”
The automaker late last year announced intentions to focus more on customer loyalty and retention instead of conquesting buyers from other brands, which they say is harder. Customer experience is at the heart of retention, Ford said, and the company looked to non-automotive companies such as Apple, Google, Marriott and JetBlue for best practices they could emulate.
“When experiences are good, we’re rewarded with higher loyalty,” Ford said.
The automaker last month launched a new loyalty rewards program, called FordPass Rewards, to try to boost dealers’ service business and stop customers from defecting to their local Jiffy Lube or third-party repair shop.
Nearly every U.S. dealer has signed up to offer the program, which runs through the company’s FordPass smartphone app. Customers who buy or lease a new vehicle and enroll in the free program automatically earn 42,000 points, which is enough to cover their first three oil and air filter changes. Customers will earn points for any service visit and can bank points toward service costs or the purchase of a new vehicle. The points can be redeemed at any dealership.
Ford modeled the program on Delta’s popular SkyMiles rewards program.
The program does not cost dealers. Ford pays for all of the points. Officials said they are looking at ways to expand opportunities for customers to earn points with more than just vehicle maintenance, which might occur only once every handful of months.
Mobile Service Vans
Ford has begun piloting a mobile service van concept at five dealerships across five states to better serve customers. The vans contain equipment for oil changes, brake pad installation and parts to fix recalls. Dealers must purchase and outfit the vans, and it’s up to individual retailers how much they would charge for the service, Ford said.
The pilot currently runs in California and will expand this month to Texas, Illinois, New Jersey and Florida.
It is unclear how long the pilot will last or whether Ford will expand it. The automaker currently operates 100 mobile service vans for fleet vehicles in the U.K.
New showroom concepts
Ford is also experimenting with a series of new showroom concepts.
The first involves upgrades to the traditional showroom with what’s called the Ford Signature look. It involves a more customer-centric experience modeled off Apple stores.
The stores call for replacing traditional deal desks with purchase rooms that have shared screens; monitors with service prices and video feeds of the service garage; and “celebration areas” for new-vehicle delivery that includes pulling a silk off a customer’s new car, like at an auto show.
Ford said it has 70 Ford Signature stores around the world with plans to grow to 300 globally by year’s end.
The automaker is also piloting a concept called Ford Smart Labs, an open floorplan look that’s dropped into high-traffic retail areas, such as shopping malls. The first is opening in Brussels, Belgium, and Ford plans to add five more labs by the end of 2019, including one in Germany and another in Canada.
Ford Credit is offering customers a couple of new experiences to make the leasing process smoother.
One is a “personal lease assistant” who can walk customers through any questions as early as four months before a lease is up. The pilot is currently running in New York and Philadelphia.
Another pilot called “Drive New. Now” provides lease customers with a one-click option to renew their lease by offering them a similar vehicle that’s available now at their individual dealership. For example, someone in a 2016 Ford Edge would be offered a 2019 Edge with the same trim package.
Ford this month will open a new 500-person call center in Houston with agents that specialize in pickup issues.
The call center will be a prototype for a new style globally, Ford said, that places greater emphasis on customer needs.
Instead of being transferred, a customer will now stay with the first person reached when the call is made. That first person will remain with the customer through the experience — an idea Ford took from call centers at its Lincoln luxury brand.
“Everything we’re doing is to empower customers and make their complicated lives simpler and worry-free,” Elena Ford said.