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At JUMP, part of the Festival of Marketing, Celia Pronto, Head of Marketing and Ecommerce at Ford Retail Group, spoke about bringing customer experience (CX) into the boardroom.

I’ve summarised what she had to say about this large and changing sector. For anyone high up the marketing chain, looking to change the way their company does business (with direct links to revenue!), this is salient and bang up to date.

What is Ford Retail Group?

Ford Retail Group is a UK dealer group owned by Ford. It’s responsible for around 20% of Ford sales, new and used, in the UK, as well as providing parts and services.

The retail group has its own board of directors and operational strategy, and encompasses nine consumer brands/dealerships across the country as well as an ecommerce operation that includes 40 or so websites.

The context for automotive sales and digital

According to Nielsen, 60% of mobile consumers use search. Despite the proliferation of digital, consumers are shown to still prefer offline experiences. Accordingly, 86% will pay more for great customer experience. And if the experience isn’t good, we’re more prepared than ever to vote with our feet.

The landscape for car consumers is now almost totally online as far as research goes. 87% of new-car buyers and 85% of used-car buyers use the web for research.

Additionally, the top resources for car research are almost entirely online. No longer do consumers use the newspaper to read reviews of new models.

All of this means that the average number of visits to a dealership before making a purchase has come down from 8 to somewhere between 1.2 and 1.8.

The wider trends in retail are marked by the user’s desire for flexibility; this defines the new omnichannel world. Click and collect and showrooming are new phenomena representative of how the physical space is being disrupted by digital. In the world of cars, the showroom is no longer full of physical vehicles. Audi and Ford in particular have pioneered the digitally enabled showroom.

At one flagship Ford branch an automated number plate recognition system can be used to identify a consumer when driving on to the forecourt. This information can then ensure the consumer gets a personalised welcome and service on entering the building.

The trend for experience has bled into the cars, too, with Ford recently acquiring Livio to enhance in-car connectivity and applications.

Why buy from Ford Retail?

This very much becomes the question. No longer is the market so product oriented.

The experience must be such that consumers choose to return to Ford Retail. 

So what’s the strategy for Ford Retail Group?

Well, internally Ford Retail has the ‘Moments of Truth’ programme. This is an acknowledgement that customer experience starts with happy engaged staff that realise the relationship with the buyer is paramount.

If the dealer is seen as purely functional by many, Ford Retail will try to differentiate itself with personality and knowledge of the product. There’s a big difference between a trade customer wanting efficiency from a van and a mum wanting a hatchback. The only way to effectively service different types of customer is to relate to their everyday needs.

Yes, there are great products in the pipeline at Ford, that the Retail Group of course has to piggyback on (e.g. the arrival of Mustang in Europe), but it’s still the case that the experience will set the Retail Group apart from another dealer.

The positioning is ‘Only Ford Retail makes it easy to buy and own your Ford’. This positioning has had a galvanising effect on staff.

The positioning is supported by the pillars of trust (in the buyer’s eyes), personal (in selling), knowledge (of the product) and efficiency (leveraging scale).

This model is underpinned by the brand personality – friendly, personal and natural. 

How is that strategy supported?

Two years ago when Celia joined Ford Retail, the marketing teams were siloed and there was no central team. There was no consistent data structure or tech platform. This makes things difficult across multiple dealers and lots of websites.

One of the things Ford Retail has had to do is put a customer layer across separate databases, to try to start getting a single customer view.

Celia feels strongly that ensuring information architecture and platforms are in place is the most important part of the journey. This is largely a process and technology issue, though of course with changing processes comes a challenge for the people of the business.

Stepping back and looking at tech and infrastructure is very important, but it also means some things have to go on hold for a little while.

All this needs to start to be put in place before staff can stop thinking about product attributes and move to thinking in terms of the customer lifestyle. If buying cars takes 4.2 months on average, marketing efforts by Ford Retail can’t be short and sharp, they have to be always-on like the consumer.

Outward facing in looking for trends, and the adoption of the 70:20:10 rule for innovation help to keep Ford Retail flexible.

Launching a new look and style across screens is imminent, as well as more work on a common platform. Celia also mentioned that a quarter by quarter budgeting has helped the process. The budget can flex each quarter and proven success earns more money from the board.

Econsultancy currently has a range of services available that can help guide organisational change, business restructuring and digital transformation strategy

Ben Davis

Published 9 October, 2013 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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