DEARBORN -- One of the ways the Ford truck team listens to its customers is through face-to-face customer clinics, where F-Series owners share their thoughts and experiences directly with the team.
According to Ronnie Ahmad, who organized customer clinics for all major Ford vehicle launches for four years until the end of 2011, F-150 customer clinics are typically held over a weekend in a location where there is an abundance of F-150 customers. The last one was held in Houston, Texas.
Ahmad says customers are recruited to participate based on their GQRS (Global Quality Research Study) results, which measure Things Gone Wrong (TGW) and overall customer satisfaction with a vehicle in several categories at the first three months of ownership.
"We typically have between 90 and 100 customers over a two-day period – Saturday and Sunday – the clinic is split up by sessions usually with 15 to 18 customers every two hours," said Ahmad.
Ford Truck Group Marketing Manager Doug Scott says what’s really critical about the customer clinics is that it’s not just the marketing team that participates but rather a huge cross-functional team across truck that includes people from Ford Customer Service Division, Manufacturing and Powertrain to Chassis, Body, Electrical and Interior/Exterior specialists.
"The quality of the feedback and actionable information you get is so much better because you have knowledgeable people asking the right questions," he said.
Before customers arrive at the designated location, all of the different functions represented are prepped with their GQRS results as well as any warranty history that has been reported on their vehicles.
"The process is set up for the customers to remain with their vehicles as the different functional engineers attend to their concerns because we want to make sure right functional engineers talk to them about the specific boxes they checked off in the GQRS survey," said Ahmad. "If they had an electrical issue, for example, there would be an electrical engineer talking to them."
Ahmad says the one-on-one communication between the customers is key because sometimes there can be a big differences between what a customer reports and what the problem may actually be with the vehicle.
"The customer may check the box that says 'slow to cool' and the engineer might interpret that as meaning that there is a problem with the air conditioning, but in reality it could just be that the customer can’t move their register far enough right or left because it doesn’t maneuver that way," he said. "So it may be an issue better addressed by an interior design specialist instead of a climate control engineer."
Scott says the importance of the one-on-one interaction cannot be overstated.
"It’s very different when a customer can demonstrate a problem because then the engineers can see exactly what’s going on and understand it completely," he said. "One of the biggest advantages in my opinion is that it is unfiltered feedback. There isn’t a layer of somebody interpreting it. And that makes it very personal and very powerful."
According to Ahmad, customer feedback from the clinics sometimes results in running changes made to vehicles already in production. Alternatively, if issues represent a major change, they may be studied for the next major vehicle launch.
"The data is meant to help make future decisions," he said. "The goal is always to make the vehicles better than they were before."
Ahmad points out that it’s not just TGWs that are reported but Things Gone Right as well.
"We want to know what makes our customers happy so that we can continue doing it and make that feature or technology even better," he said.
When the clinic is complete, Ahmad says all of the customer feedback is put into a comprehensive power point presentation that is delivered to everyone from engineers working on the vehicles all the way up to President of The Americas Mark Fields.
Scott says the customer clinics are a labor of love for the engineers because their participation is voluntary.
"They’re doing it because they want to deliver the best product they can," he said. "So when they’re out there with the truck and listening to somebody whose transmission isn’t right or who is having electrical issues, it’s very real and it hits on those pride points and makes them even more intent on making the trucks better."