The pandemic created challenges – notably, a more than tenfold increase in U.S. payment extension requests and temporary dealership closures – that forced changes in priorities. The Ford Credit Customer Experience and eCommerce teams responded with improved tools for customers and dealers.
“With everything our teams are facing personally, they are still focused on helping our customers,” Customer Experience Director Krista Conyers said. The Account Manager team prioritized making online payment extensions in the U.S. easier and quickly launched a Canadian extension process.
“The team has learned to work differently. We have Agile teams that were co-located and when we sent everyone home, they had to learn to continue collaborating. They did not miss a beat,” Conyers said.
“When customers self-serve, it is less expensive for us than when they call the business center. We want digital options to be easy to use, and we are moving faster than ever,” said Tim Sullivan, Own Renew Delivery manager. Sullivan and his team are working on a new feature to allow customers to do self-service lease-end extensions.
The Ford Credit eCommerce team is working with Ford to allow customers to complete every part of a vehicle purchase online. That requires a website where the dealer puts the customer in control of the process and offers transparent pricing. When customers arrive at the dealership, what they get is what they purchased online.
In the meantime, Ford Credit recommends AutoFi, a digital tool that provides real-time credit decisions to help Ford and dealers sell vehicles online. AutoFi resides on dealer websites and allows customers to select vehicles, see the price, choose options, get a trade-in estimate, apply for financing and get a decision, including Ford Credit incentives, without dealer interaction. With AutoFi, customers can get approved for a specific vehicle.
“Online activity, including Ford Credit online credit applications (OCA) and AutoFi offerings, has increased dramatically since the pandemic,” said Toby Zeman, Shop Buy manager on the eCommerce team. “In April, OCA volume shot up by 53%.”
Joy Falotico, president of The Lincoln Motor Company and Ford Chief Marketing Officer, said the AutoFi rollout to dealers has accelerated with the pandemic. Along with remote delivery and other actions, AutoFi has helped Lincoln increase online sales to 35% of U.S. volume.
Josh Schave, Ford Credit future products manager, is leading a national AutoFi sales blitz focusing on high-volume dealers. Since January, U.S. enrollment has increased by 75%, to about 700 dealers.
“We have U.S. dealers responsible for 36% of Ford sales volume enrolled, and we want to get to 50%. It will take about 1,000 dealers,” Schave said. “The pandemic has changed dealers’ mindset, and they are rapidly accepting AutoFi.”
Ford Credit business development managers are working with Ford and Lincoln sales staff to contact dealers about enrolling and to make online sales presentations.
Most dealers who are not enrolled are either using another tool or plan to enroll. Some don’t want to price their inventory online; others think their customers are not interested in purchasing online. For smaller dealerships, the expense is a concern, but one vehicle sale more than covers it, according to Schave.
“Today, most customers still sign documents at the dealership, but the eCommerce team is also working toward customers signing all documents online, which would enable dealers to deliver vehicles wherever the customer chooses,” Zeman said.
Ford Credit is an investor in AutoFi.