Knight School: If you're sunk on Sync, tech-savvy Ford dealer can help
Bill Knight: “It's great for me because it keeps me connected to our customers -- and with the technology, too.”
When Bill Knight started offering monthly clinics on Ford Motor Co.'s Sync entertainment and communication system back in 2009, only a handful of customers showed up for each session at his Tulsa, Okla., Ford and Lincoln stores.
Fast forward to 2013. The clinics' popularity has soared to the point that customers have to reserve spots in advance, and 30 to 50 people usually attend.
It would seem that Knight, who owns Bill Knight Ford and Bill Knight Lincoln-Volvo, might have enough to do just running his two dealerships. He's also the 2013 chairman of the Lincoln National Dealer Council.
But Knight, 50, happens to like technology. And he gets a kick out of teaching customers to operate Sync, MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch.
"It gives me a chance to engage our customers. People know if I can take the time to learn it and be comfortable with it and communicate it, they can, too," says Knight, whose calm and reassuring manner helps to put technophobes at ease.
"It's great for me because it keeps me connected to our customers -- and with the technology, too. It's wonderful."
The clinics alternate between Knight's Ford store and his Lincoln store. They start at 7 p.m. and last about 90 minutes. Knight starts with a slide presentation that lasts a half an hour or so. Then many customers want to get into their cars and practice what they've learned.
A handful of salespeople and other employees hang around to sit with people in their cars. Technicians are on hand to help customers with software upgrades or any other issues.
Because so many of his customers' issues relate to the compatibility of telephones with Ford's systems, Knight made an arrangement with a nearby Best Buy store to have Geek Squad personnel on hand to solve phone queries.
Knight believes it's the dealerships' responsibility to sort out those issues, even if the problem is with the mobile phone and not the car.
"It's very difficult to tell the person to go back to the phone store. We never do that. If you say, 'It's a phone problem, so you have to go to your phone store,' that's a real pain point for the customer," he says.
The worst that could happen, he says, is the dealership sends a customer back to their phone store only to have the phone store say: "'That's a Ford problem.' We work hard not to let that happen."
Knight encourages customers to bring family members along, which is especially beneficial when tech-savvy youngsters can be there to help their parents master the material.
"You put a 13-year-old in there and they're pairing the phones right away. Mother and dad are more hesitant. It is all about software. Trying to keep up with all the phone technology and stuff, it is challenging," says Knight.
The clinics have the added benefit of helping customers get over their natural reluctance to set foot in an auto dealership any more than necessary.
"I think people are a little hesitant, thinking we're trying to sell them something," he says. "It gives us another way to bring them in the dealership in a very open and inviting way where we're here to help. We're not selling anything, just trying to help them enjoy their ownership experience as much as they can."
Knight finds he has to scramble to keep up with the material he teaches, especially with "all the myriad phones and how to pair the different phones. I try to read all the tools that Ford provides us. I take in all the information that comes to us regarding MyFord Touch. I need to be accountable, to know it."
Accountability is part of the reason Knight teaches the classes himself and why the dealership posts the schedules six months in advance. Having the classes run on a clockwork schedule has helped promote their popularity, he says.
Attendance also bumped up when the MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch systems launched a couple of years ago.
Knight worked for Penske Automotive Group as a regional manager before buying his own stores in 2008. A year later, he launched the classes.
"It's hard to believe it's been four years we've been doing it. Now we see customers come who bought their Fords and Lincolns at other dealerships," says Knight.
That's just fine with him.
"Technology can be so intimidating," he says. "It is wonderful technology. If they know it and know how it operates, they get a ton out of it."
You can reach Bradford Wernle at firstname.lastname@example.org.