Ford store's busiest sales staffer doesn't sell
Getting customers in sync with Sync
Jamie Wilson, the technology training specialist at Village Ford in Dearborn, Mich., teaches buyers how to use vehicle electronics such as Sync and MyFord Touch.
DETROIT -- Jamie Wilson is among Village Ford's busiest sales staffers, but he doesn't sell any cars at the Dearborn, Mich., dealership.
Wilson's job: Teach buyers how to use the advanced electronics in their new vehicles, including Ford Motor Co.'s Sync voice-activated command system and the MyFord Touch infotainment and controls system.
If a buyer didn't absorb all the information the first time, Wilson is there to answer questions in a follow-up visit. Customers often come in seeking help in pairing a new smartphone with the vehicle.
"They like to come in for multiple sessions," says Wilson, 23, a cheerful, ruddy-cheeked man with spiky, reddish hair. "Ford is putting a lot of technology in these vehicles. They like to come back and get reacquainted. We like to do that one-on-one."
Ford has moved aggressively to be a technology leader. The company says customers list technology as a main reason Ford is high on their shopping lists. At the same time, problems with the systems have hurt Ford in consumer satisfaction surveys.
So Ford and Lincoln dealers are on the front lines of the in-vehicle technology revolution, where the vehicle has become a mobile communications center and the dealer showroom is part telecommunications classroom.
"You go into a phone store and they're not going to teach you how to drive a car," says O.C. Welch, president of O.C. Welch Ford-Lincoln in Hardeeville, S.C. "But we're teaching people to use their phones."
Says Welch: "The technology is excellent. But if you don't know how to use it, it's worthless."
He requires employees to thoroughly understand the systems. But, he adds, "It is very taxing to a salesperson. It's overwhelming to customers and it's especially overwhelming to older customers, especially Lincoln customers. They're just not ready for this."
Chris Lemley, dealer principal at Sentry Auto Group, which owns three Ford-Lincoln stores in the Boston area, doesn't think hiring a separate person for training would work for his stores.
"I can't imagine that that's a durable model," says Lemley, who believes the solution lies in having all employees well trained in the latest technology.
Many of Lemley's Boston-area customers are well versed in technology.
"The more fluent people take more time, rather than less, because they actually use the technology," he says.
It's different at Big Sky Ford-Lincoln in Torrington, Wyo. Many customers there are ranchers who drive Ford pickups, don't have Bluetooth phones and listen to only one radio station all day.
But owner Martin Gubbels believes his customers should understand the functions they need to properly operate their new vehicles. The dealership automatically schedules a follow-up training appointment a month after every sale.
Gubbels is glad Ford put redundant buttons and knobs in F-series pickups with MyFord Touch.
"These are people who are driving across the pasture. If something doesn't work for them immediately or if they have to not pay attention to what they're doing," they're not going to be happy, he says.
Ford pays dealers a technology allowance of as much as $75 for every vehicle sold with MyFord Touch, to cover the cost of additional customer training. Gubbels says $75 "is nowhere near enough" to cover a dealer's cost. "But if a dealer is proactive, we can keep customers happy with some mild in-house training."
At Village Ford, Wilson talks customers through the systems without rushing, despite being in near-constant demand.
One recent day, he patiently helped one customer who had bought a smartphone and wanted to synchronize it with her Ford Escape.
"I just returned to brush up. My phone is a smartphone, just not smart enough to talk to the car," says Cathy Gibson of nearby Garden City, Mich., with a laugh.
Wilson, a graphic arts graduate of Wayne State University, also designs Village Ford's online advertising. He is the third technology training specialist at Village Ford since owner Jim Seavitt created the position three years ago.
"We just think it's a real customer service and it provides us with an edge other dealers don't have," says Seavitt. "As well as the salespeople know the product, they don't know it as well as this one guy."
You can reach Bradford Wernle at firstname.lastname@example.org.