Ford Taking Cinematic Storytelling Approach With New Ford University Dealer Training Platform

May 10, 2024

Ford’s new dealer training platform is taking a cinematic storytelling approach, and its creator hopes that it could, one day, rival streaming services and social media for dealership employees’ attention. Ford University, which launched May 1, at 3,000 Ford Blue and Model e dealers across the U.S., is the company’s new, always-on digital and video-based platform for the network’s 164,000 salespeople, technicians, and service managers.

The creative content available on Ford University, which takes a storytelling approach, is led by Bill Hasler, a TV veteran who came to Ford more than a decade ago and has developed content for Lincoln’s customer service initiatives. Hasler has assembled an in-house creative production team to create a streaming content library. He said the team plans to use dealer demand to dictate the type of content they produce and will do so in multiple formats depending on the extent of learning that is needed. He sees a big opportunity in featured content, which will be tailored to the auto industry. 

“In lieu of opening TikTok, they’re going to open Ford University, because we’re going to create enticing content that’s relevant to people who love the automotive industry,” he said. “The majority of our dealer staff love the automotive industry. And we can also create content that will help them become better at what they do.”

Content could also include public speaking instructional videos for salespeople or how-to demos to help dealership staff shoot better videos, which will ultimately help deliver a better customer experience.

Partnering with dealers

Ford University features a personalized, data-driven dashboard for dealer staff, gamified learning experiences, as well as 24/7 on-demand, AI-supported virtual coaching. Ford has integrated its dealers during the platform’s development over the past year. Abby Vietor, global director of dealer training and productivity, noted that Ford partnered with various dealer councils and the Global Dealer Roundtable, as well as the Training Advisory Board, on the development of the Ford University experience and how dealers can use the data that the platform captures to better train dealer employees. 

Vietor, a tech industry veteran, said the platform will enable our Ford dealers to speak confidently about Ford’s products and services.

“There are so many good products and services coming out of Ford, and we want to make sure they’re accurately represented to the customers in a way that’s meaningful,” she said. “Our dealers recognize the importance of that. Their partnership has been critical in making this a success.”

Training material for dealership technicians is expected to be added to the platform later this year. 

Vietor also credited support from Ford leadership for helping deliver Ford University in just one year.

“It shows a real commitment [to Ford dealers],” she said. “I’ve had a lot of support from Ford’s leadership to make this a priority experience for their dealers, and in turn, our customers.”

Retention is key

Using story-driven content will help increase retention of Ford University’s lessons with learners because of the emotional impact that comes with that approach, its creators said. The platform teaches lessons through role-playing exercises called “missions,” while an AI-powered virtual coach offers instant feedback on users' performance. 

Kathy Munoz, manager and coach in dealer training and productivity, knows retention of the product info is critical for dealership employees. She said that a group of dealer principals and general managers who previewed Ford University called it one of the best training experiences they’ve ever had.

“We can go through training all day long, but if we’re not retaining that knowledge and not sharing it back at the customer level and reinforcing with the customer that they’re confident and that they know what they’re doing … then all of this is for naught,” she said.

The face of Ford

Ford University is replacing a system that followed a traditional e-learning format. The new platform’s interactive nature is expected to improve dealer employee satisfaction and help increase their overall understanding of the information they need to share with customers. Jenna Thompson, Model e customer checkout and integration manager, said the improved training will result in an improved customer experience. 

“They will have more meaningful, robust conversations with their sales teams at their local dealerships and that will reflect on Ford as a brand overall,” she said. “They have a better interaction as a purchase or vehicle service visit, and they feel like they have a trusted advocate through their Ford dealer.”

Thompson said the Model e team has been providing content and feedback to the Ford University training team to support the development of videos and other training material. She said having the platform available to dealership employees is very important, especially from a Model e perspective.

“They are the face of Ford, not just to the customer, but to their community,” Thompson said. “So, when they are super engaged and excited, particularly about EVs, that really reflects on everything as a whole.”

‘Groundbreaking’ new technology

Ford Guest Experience Immersion Manager Geralyn Gaines will see the impact of Ford University first-hand as she conducts in-person dealer training. She said the mobile-first nature and gamification aspects of the new technology make it “groundbreaking.”

“It’s going to help so many people at different phases of their career journey,” Gaines said. “It’s going to help improve the way people communicate, because if you’re looking at yourself and you’re getting AI feedback about your presentation skills and what you should include, you can see yourself in the eyes of the guest or customer.”

Gaines said positive feedback from a recent pilot program is encouraging, and she’s excited to see Ford University launch on a wider scale. 

“I hate to be cliché, but it is really everything,” she said of Ford’s relationship with its dealers. “They drive so much of what we do. We genuinely value their feedback, and I love that we’re taking the opportunity to meet with dealers as much as possible, and we are allowing the data to inform decisions about how we go about training people at the dealership.”