DEARBORN - The Consumer Experience Movement (CEM) was created to transform the culture at Ford and Lincoln dealerships throughout the country so that the car-buying experience would generate enthusiastic and loyal customers.
But there are other facets of the way a dealership operates that impact customer satisfaction. That’s where Consumer Experience Specialists come in, says Andrew Ashman, manager, CEM.
“Consumer Experience Specialists are Ford employees who look at the processes that are in place at the various customer touch points throughout the dealership and come up with creative ways to enhance the consumer experience,” he said.
There are 22 Consumer Experience Specialists (CES) in place throughout the country. Each one is in charge of a different geographical zone that monitors roughly 10 to 12 dealerships that are selected based on their customer satisfaction scores.
“The CES’ work with dealers that show the greatest need for help,” said Ashman. “Their customer satisfaction scores need improvement and the dealers themselves show the willingness to have Ford come in and help them.”
When a CES is assigned to a dealership, it is to offer assistance in Sales or Service. The specialists typically begin by having an introductory meeting with the dealer and management staff. Then they spend up to three days watching everything that happens in the dealership, taking copious notes and interviewing as many people as possible.
All of the CES’ findings are put into a comprehensive report along with their recommendations for change. The CES discusses all the issues and solutions with the dealership staff and then returns to the dealership every 30 to 45 days to monitor their progress.
Nicole Ford, a CES for Ford’s Atlanta region, says she often finds similar issues at many of the dealerships she visits.
“A lot of times it’s a matter of communication,” she said. “For example, in a service setting Ford dealerships perform a multi-point inspection on every vehicle that comes into the dealership. This isn’t your 10-minute Jiffy Lube drive-up. This is a very thorough check of your vehicle and sometimes it can take up to 45 minutes. But if a customer’s perception is that they’re coming for a 10-minute oil change, they may end up upset or disappointed.”
In that situation, Ford says the solution might be to explain to the customer in advance – perhaps during the sales experience – the value they receive from bringing their vehicle back to a Certified Ford Technician for service.
“Customers need to know that there is a value to having your car serviced at a Ford dealership that you don’t get anywhere else. The technicians know the vehicles and you’re getting products that are made especially for Ford vehicles,” she explained.
Another issue might be the time it takes for the porter to pull the customer’s car up, and the solution may be quite simple, says Taylor Alumbaugh, a CES for Ford’s Houston region.
“You go to pick up your vehicle and they call the porter to go and get it but because the parking lot is not numbered, the porter can’t find it. So he’s out there clicking the key fob trying to find it and it takes forever,” she explained. “In that situation, the suggestion might be to number the spaces. Not all the solutions are complex.”
On the sales side, a common complaint from customers is that the sales process takes too long, says Alumbaugh.
“It takes roughly three hours to buy a car and sometimes the people who aren’t going to finance through us think they can come in and buy a car in an hour and they can’t,” she explained. “The sales person really has to lay out what the process is going to look like ahead of time. That can make a big difference for some dealerships.”
Gene Evans Team Ford and Lincoln in Union City, Georgia, is one of the dealerships that Ford visited earlier this year. Bill Miller, general manager at the dealership, says her help was invaluable.
“She came up with three or four key processes that she thought would help us improve and she looked at it from a customer standpoint – what does the customer need and what are they not getting?” he said. “We changed the way we did our deliveries. We thought we were doing well with the service process but we changed the flow of work when it comes into the shop. She gave us some good ideas and ways to get customers in and out quicker.”
Miller says things typically worked well about 80 percent of the time in his service department, but it’s the other 20 percent of the time that concerned him.
“If you do 20 percent poorly, it doesn’t take long until you lose customer satisfaction. A lot of what Nicole did improved customer loyalty which goes a long way to improving word of mouth, bringing other people into the dealership and having them continue to come back,” he said. “She was a big help to us.”
Within the last three months since Ford has been working with his dealership, Miller says their customer satisfaction scores have improved 10 points.
“She was able to look at our processes with an outside set of eyes and really see the different areas where we could improve,” he said.
Access Ford Lincoln in Corpus Christie, Texas, was not one of the dealerships on Alumbaugh’s list to visit, but Charlie Massey, owner of the dealership, requested her help.
“We’re in a part of the world where the oil pacts have just busted loose and we have a pretty big truck and fleet repair business and do a lot of diesel work. But because of that, our normal paying customers weren’t getting the level of service that they might’ve gotten two or three years ago,” explained Massey. “So I asked our regional manager if we could get some help because our customer satisfaction scores were falling and I was concerned.”
Alumbaugh has visited Access Ford three times since August.
“She looked at what we were doing and made suggestion on how to improve our customer relationship, specifically how our service advisors deal with shifting gears between a fleet account where an employee drops a vehicle off and a regular retail customer that comes in for a service issue – be it warranty or customer pay,” said Massey.
“She helped us see how a retail customer needs to be treated from explaining the multi-point inspection and explaining the bill to all the different policies and procedures that go into maintaining quality of service at a level or standard that’s not only acceptable to Ford Motor Company but is acceptable to me,” he said.
Massey says that while he understands that it may take a while to get his 12-month scores back to where they used to be, his short-term scores have improved.
“As a dealer, I think Taylor’s help is invaluable and I’ll tell you why,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, and she helps you look at the forest.”
At the end of the day, says Ashman, it’s all about making customers happy.
“We all make great products. What will differentiate Ford from our competitors is the consumer experience and how customers feel when they come back from our dealerships,” he said.