Last week we popped into Ford’s new Service Engineering Operations unit to learn more about the Blue Oval’s renewed focus on the customer.
FORD South Africa says it’s strengthening its commitment to customer service and satisfaction by introducing new technologies and processes to better serve owners of Ford vehicles and build long-term brand loyalty.
“Customer satisfaction is central to our business, and it’s for this reason that we are always looking to find new and proactive ways of supporting our customers, to ensure that we deliver a positive ownership experience,” says Neale Hill, MD of Ford South Africa.
“One of the major areas we focused on was creating a faster and more responsive way of dealing with issues that result in a customer’s vehicle spending time in a dealership as opposed to with the owner,” Hill adds. “We prioritised taking care of the customers’ immediate safety and mobility requirements, and then work closely with key dealers on major routes around the country to ensure that vehicles are repaired and back on the road as soon as possible.”
Ranger and Everest a key model for Ford SA
With the Ford Ranger pick-up being the company’s most popular vehicle and one of South Africa’s top sellers, the local Ford team prioritised support for the Ranger, as well as the Everest sport utility vehicle (SUV) – both of which are produced at Ford’s Silverton Assembly Plant.
A specialised Ranger Support Team was established, using a cross-functional team of customer case managers, technical specialists and parts experts that work together with the dealer to better support customers, should something go wrong with their vehicle while covered under the standard warranty, which is valid for four years/120,000km.
“Our goal was to reduce customer downtime, a key pain point for anyone who experiences a vehicle breakdown,” explains Maja Smith, sales and field operations manager in the customer service division at Ford South Africa. “Research and customer surveys show that even if a customer experiences an issue with a product, being treated with honesty, urgency and care by the company involved is likely to result in a positive customer rating that is higher than if they hadn’t experienced the problem in the first place.
“Our CX model uses a proactive approach to these incidents,” Smith says. “The moment our Roadside Assistance is notified of a Ranger breakdown, our Ranger Support Team kicks into action.”
Making it easier for you to get help
A single case manager oversees vehicle cases from start to finish, and contacts the customer immediately to offer whatever support and assistance they require, including providing a like-for-like loan vehicle if required.
“Ford will arrange armed security to wait with the customer until the recovery vehicle arrives if required, organise a like-for-like loan car and book accommodation for them if necessary.
“Transparency and communication are key to building trust with our customers, and the case managers continually keep the customer informed of the progress,” Smith says.
The case manager co-ordinates with the dealership to prioritise the necessary repairs, and is supported by a parts specialist to expedite the delivery of any required items if the dealer doesn’t have them in stock. The entire process is managed through a Customer Case Progress Tracker, which provides end-to-end visibility for the customer throughout the repair process via their communication medium of choice – whether it is telephonically, via SMS, WhatsApp or e-mail.
Using automation to ensure consistency
Ford South Africa has also implemented an automated alert system that identifies any vehicles that have been in for repairs at a Ford dealer for more than a certain number of days.
“Having a vehicle off the road is a significant inconvenience for any customer, so the alert system brings this to our attention and enables us to quickly and effectively assist the dealer in resolving any repair or outstanding parts issues,” Smith says.
“Taking this concept further, we recently launched our Ford Repair Centre initiative that supports Ford dealers in their vicinity,” she adds. “If a dealer has a vehicle that is difficult to repair, we move that vehicle to the Repair Centre where a highly trained technician takes over the case to expedite the process, get the issue resolved and return the vehicle to its owner as soon as possible.”
There are at present two Ford Repair Centres in Gauteng and one in the Western Cape, with more to follow in the major city centres.
An additional tool developed by Ford’s CX team in South Africa is an integrated online case management system that provides an easy way for dealers to manage and update open cases. It feeds into a central management system, and measures the dealer timeline for closing cases, provides proactive dealer notifications on new cases, follow-up e-mails for delinquent cases and weekly reporting to dealer principals.
Heightening engagement with customers
Further to this Ford is also piloting a Customer Clinic programme that sees Ford’s Quality engineers engaging face-to-face with customers to understand their experiences – positive or negative.
“Virtually every enterprise claims it puts customers at the centre of its business, but few can really say they have achieved this. That’s because becoming truly customer-centric requires a radical shift in many core business operations,” says Smith.
“Interacting directly with the customer can be unnerving, especially in instances where the relationship has deteriorated, but it also shows that we are willing to listen. Sometimes we don’t have all the answers, but we are open to engaging and understanding the customer’s unique circumstances,” she says.
The Customer Clinics will be adapted based on the learnings out of each session to ensure that they add value to both the customer and the organisation.
“It’s a work in progress and we are learning as we go. Our ultimate goal is to better serve the customer, and it’s imperative that we are flexible. If we see these interactions result in a better customer experience, then we know we’re on the right track, but equally if they are not working, we need to change tact and not be afraid to learn and move forward with new ideas,” adds Smith.
In recent years Ford has invested heavily in customer experiences, aiming to increase loyalty to Ford by further improving customer advocacy through programmes that show appreciation to its long-term customer base.
“Customers in today’s increasingly connected world expect better and more personalised treatment from companies. They want solutions that make them feel productive, cared for and special,” concludes Smith. “That’s why we’re constantly looking for opportunities for improvement. Everything we’re doing is to empower customers and make their complicated lives simpler and worry-free.”