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Ford offers free service loan cars in Aussie first

Self serve: Ford's Australia dealers will offer free loan cars to scheduled service customers in an Australian first.

Massive loan car investment by Ford and its dealers to boost customer rating

12 Feb 2015

IN A massive investment to boost its customer service satisfaction levels, Ford has become the first mainstream motor company in Australia to offer free loan cars to customers during scheduled services at dealerships.

Beginning this month, the Ford dealer network will be armed with up to 1100 new loan cars ranging from little Fiestas to big Falcons and Ranger utes in an Australia-wide fleet worth a conservative $30 million up front.

The cost of the cars and their on-going maintenance and replacement will be borne jointly by Ford and the retailers.

The service will be flagged in a big advertising blitz starting on television and online this weekend as the Blue Oval brand – once Australia’s biggest car company – ramps up attempts to boost its Customer Service Satisfaction (CSI) levels that have been bumping along below most of its direct competitors such as Toyota, Holden, Mazda and Hyundai.

The project is also designed to get potential customers into new Ford vehicles to boost flagging sales that have halved Ford’s Australian market share in a decade.

Part of a broader “dealerships of the future” rev-up for the Ford retail network, the move will also help counter negative sentiment that has clouded Ford since its decision to quit manufacturing in Australia in October 2016.

Dealers will not have any trouble finding cars for the service – Ford Australia’ s sales were down 21.3 per cent in January, to 5357 units, with the locally made, newly facelifted Falcon finding just 381 new owners.

 center imageFord Australia vice president Graeme Whickman

About 80 per cent of Ford’s 200 dealerships have signed up for the loan car program under which customers – including owners of out-of-warranty and second-hand Ford vehicles – need to book when they make their service reservation.

The only other brand to offer a comprehensive loan car service in Australia is Lexus, but that is believed to apply only to new-car customers with vehicles under warranty.

While Ford’s offer will be a case of first in, best dressed for customers, the company promises that it has matched the dealership loan car fleet with its estimates of demand across Australia, so few customers will be knocked back if they give sufficient notice.

Each customer will be asked to sign a disclaimer form covering driving restrictions, traffic fines and other conditions, as well as being asked to re-fuel the car when it is returned.

Ford Australia marketing, sales and service vice president Graeme Whickman told GoAuto the “heavy investment” in the loan car program was one of a raft of initiatives designed to accelerate Ford customer satisfaction.

Describing the program as “an important play for us”, Mr Whickman said Ford intended to exceed consumer expectations by introducing services to transform the customer experience.

“Today, even your hairdresser will send a text to remind you of an appointment the next day,” he said. “The world is changing rapidly and we need to change with it.” Mr Whickman said the first loan cars were already with dealers, including every Ford dealership in Sydney and Melbourne.

“By the time all the cars are in place, we will have between 800 and 1100 cars for customer loan,” he said. “It is not inconsequential, for the dealers or for Ford.” Mr Whickman declined to spell out the split of cost and responsibility between Ford and participating dealers, but said all cars on the loan fleet would be current-model Fords and representative of the Ford range.

He said some dealers might tailor it to their local clientele by including say, more Focus small cars on the loan fleet, if they were more popular in their local area.

Last year, Ford announced that it would introduce a suite of initiatives to elevate its customer service satisfaction rating.

So far, these have included expanding its capped-price service scheme to cover the lifetime of a vehicle and free auto club membership with roadside assistance for up to seven years.

In parallel with the new offerings, Ford is working with dealers to improve customer service via its “dealerships of the future” program in which 20 sites have already been updated to “transform how Australians experience a dealership from the very moment they walk into a showroom”.

As GoAuto reported in November, Ford was ranked equal sixth with Honda among mass-selling motor companies in the 2014 results for the influential JD Power 2014 Customer Service Index (CSI) study.

The score of 787 points was the highest for Ford in the five years of the study, but only by two points over 2013 and 2010. Unfortunately for the company, that score put Ford below the average, which rose by seven points in 2014, to 790 points.

Its two local manufacturing rivals, Holden and Toyota, are both ranked higher, as are the two biggest importers that have leapfrogged Ford into the top sales ranks in recent years, Mazda and Hyundai.

According to Ford’s internal surveys, customer satisfaction is improving rapidly, with sales satisfaction up eight per cent and service satisfaction climbing 12 per cent year on year.

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