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Ford customer satisfaction ‘rocketing up’

The fix is in: Ford’s attack on customer service at both the corporate and dealership level is helping to lift the Blue Oval brand from the bottom of the pile.

Improvements in Ford customer care to keep coming, says Ford Australia

Ford logo16 Jun 2016

By RON HAMMERTON

FORD Australia is claiming the biggest improvement in customer satisfaction ratings of any Ford entity in the world, thanks to sales and service practices benchmarked against companies such as Apple, Sony and even Disney.

While the company stops short of suggesting that its dealership showrooms and service centres are now Disney-like “happiest places on earth” (recent Disney Resort alligator attacks aside), it has pronounced its full-scale blitz on customer service a winner to date, transforming the coal face of the Blue Oval.

Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman, who has overseen the program since arriving early last year from his previous role as Ford Motor Company Canada sales vice president, said the results had started to attract attention from other Ford branches around the world.

He said Ford had “stolen” some of its new-look customer service initiatives from the United States and Canada, benchmarking them against world’s best practice at the likes of Apple and Sony.

Mr Whickman told GoAuto that when he was at Ford of Canada, he took dealers to Disney World to not only experience first-rate customer service but to hear first-hand from Disney executives about the techniques and standards employed by Disney to maintain the highest levels of customer satisfaction.

Now in Australia, practices such as these have had a major impact on Ford’s rebranding that allegedly has helped to lift customer satisfaction from the bottom ranks of the industry to among the top performers.

“We have rocketed in terms of customer satisfaction and now we are asking ourselves ‘what next’,” Mr Whickham said.

Its Dealerships of the Future program – introduced in late 2014 under previous Ford Australia president Bob Graziano – has been embraced by dealerships covering 75 per cent of all Ford customers in Australia, with more to come before the end of the year.

Free new Ford loan cars for service customers, a 24/7 customer help line, roadside assistance with free towing, concierge-type service check in, special new-car handover ceremonies and – from July 1 – free annual sat-nav updates for seven years are among the changes wrought at dealerships to smooth the path for customers.

While some of these initiatives will look familiar to customers of other motor companies, particularly prestige brands such as Lexus, it has come as a pleasant shock for Ford buyers.

According to Ford, service retention levels have improved 37 per cent since 2012, while Ford’s massive sales plunge appears to have been arrested, with sales up 16.4 per cent so far this year.

Mr Whickman said the changes involved a holistic approach involving three pillars – bricks and mortar, technology and culture.

Ford and its dealerships jointly have spent millions of dollars on revamping tired premises, introducing technologies such as internet service booking and iPads in sales and service receptions, and cultural change driven by customer service coaches who visit dealerships regularly to advise sales and service staff.

And, of course, the free service loan cars that are jointly funded by Ford and the dealerships.

Mr Whickman said discussions between Ford and its dealers over the changes had been “robust”, but he said it was important that the network embraced the change.

“We told them that we believed this is a battleground we can win in, and believe it is something that can carry us forward and that we need you to come on the journey,” he said.

“That’s kind of non-negotiable, because we believe that is the right thing to do, just as much as launching the product we have.

“We had a robust discussion with the dealers, but at the same time we haven’t simply said ‘go figure out for yourself’. We have said this is the situation, here’s where we would like to be and here’s the tools that we have.”

Mr Whickman said the improvement had been such that it was attracting attention from within Ford.

“As a global entity, Ford in Australia has seen the biggest gains of any entity, on the basis of putting those things together,” he said.

“And now we are getting questions from our other global brethren asking ‘how did you do that, what’s gone on’. My summation is that it wasn’t just simply process, it was not simply technology, it was not simply culture.

“It was the three of them coming together and timing them effectively, rolling them out and letting them breathe a little bit.”

New Zealand-raised and educated, Mr Whickman resisted the temptation to bag previous customer service practices within Ford Australia and its dealership network, even though Ford has undeniably come off a particularly low base – one that contributed significantly to a plunge in sales volumes over the past decade or more.

Instead, he claimed the moves needed to be made because of changing needs in modern sales and service.

“Consumers are looking for something different,” he said. “Things are changing around us. It is not necessarily an indictment of the past. It’s a different world we live in. So we need to step up.”

Mr Whickman said Ford wanted to be a leader in customer service, and would not let up in the current drive for improvement.

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