Ford rolls out dealer training to its 7,500 global dealers

Elena Ford: "It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of face-to-face interaction and it’s a heart-and-mind thing."
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DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is taking its dealership training program worldwide.

It is part of the automakers’ ongoing effort to improve customer service and increase buyer loyalty.

The program, known as the Consumer Experience Movement, has been running in North America since late 2010 and delivering results, Elena Ford, the automaker’s vice president of global dealer and consumer experience, said in a meeting with Automotive News.

“We co-created this with the dealers,” Ford said. “The Consumer Experience Movement is about how we communicate with our dealers and how dealers communicate with customers and it starts with the relationship.”

The program is purely voluntary, Ford said. She declined to reveal its cost to dealers, but said the company splits the cost 50/50 with the dealer.

Pilots expanding

Ford said 847 of the automaker’s 3,286 U.S. dealerships, accounting for 51 percent of the company’s sales volume, are participating in the Consumer Experience Movement presently.

About half of them are high-volume stores, she said. The initiative doesn’t necessarily focus on high-volume stores, but she acknowledged that it does focus more on stores in major metropolitan markets.

The automaker is running a pilot program of the Consumer Experience Movement for dealers in Brazil. It will roll it out to other parts of South America in the second half of 2014, said Ford.

She said 28 dealerships in Europe are already participating in a pilot and 140 more will join in January. Ford will launch a pilot of the program in China, India, Thailand and Australia early next year, she said.

In the Middle East Africa and emerging markets area, Ford said 52 percent of dealerships are already participating in the Consumer Experience Movement.

'Unfiltered feedback'

Here is how it works: Dealership employees take a survey answering a variety of questions about operations, including 360-degree evaluations of managers. The goal is to give a dealer “unfiltered feedback,” Ford said.

“It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of face-to-face interaction and it’s a heart-and-mind thing,” Ford said. “It gets to be a reality check of what their team and their store thinks of them.”

Ford supplies a so-called “coach” from professional consulting companies to work with the dealership on ways to improve operations and increase customer loyalty through improved customer service. The coach visits the dealership 8 to 10 times a year for training sessions that typically last a “couple of days,” Ford said.

“They work on whatever the dealer principal wants to work on,” Ford said. “It brings the team together in the store. Once a month, they sit down together to work on a problem, no matter what it is.”

Talk to each other

One issue that comes up frequently is getting the different departments in a dealership to talk and work together, she said. While knowing the customer personally is critical to building loyalty, she said, “It’s important that they know each other first.”

Ford does “coach summits” with experts from around the world to keep the coaches on the cutting edge, Ford said.

“We also have global dealer roundtables with dealers from around the world giving us feedback on consumer satisfaction,” Ford said.

For those U.S. dealers who started with the Consumer Experience Movement in late 2010, the results have been positive, Ford says.

As a group, the percentage of new vehicles retailed for those dealers rose 26 percent in the third quarter of this year from the same period in 2011. Comparing the same time periods, participating dealerships’ return on sales increased 2 percent and dealer sales loyalty rose 2.5 percent, Ford said.

Dealers receive monthly reports from the coaches on their progress. Dealers sign up for the Consumer Experience Movement annually, Ford said.

She added: “It’s an ongoing journey. It doesn’t have an end.”

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