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How Ford’s focus on CX is gaining traction

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How Ford’s focus on CX is gaining traction

Ford CX strategy

A woman and her teenage son are on what appears to be a long but familiar drive. You can hear the sounds of other cars on the road outside, but it’s sort of muffled. Neither of them are speaking.

Then, the woman presses a button which activates BlueCruise, Ford’s hands-free driving automation system.

She turns to her son, and begins communicating in sign language. Reluctantly, he begins signing back, and an important dialogue begins as the car continues on its way.

In just a few seconds, the video – which was produced with Ford’s agency partner VMLY&R – shows how dramatically the experience of both driving and being a passenger in a car is changing. Jim Azzouz not only needs to consider moments like these, however. He also has to think through the complete journey customers take as they research, purchase and maintain their vehicles over time.

Jim Azzouz, Ford
Jim Azzouz, Ford

Speaking at Forrester’s recent CX North America conference, Ford’s executive director of global customer relations and CX products acknowledged that there has been a critical shift in how the automaker maps out and enhances these journeys. For one thing, companies like Ford realize the critical parts of the relationship really begin once the keys to a new vehicle are dropped in a buyer’s hand.

“We used to focus on acquisition (of a vehicle). Our business is now much greater than just the vehicle,” he said.

This has been reflected in initiatives such as the Ford+ Plan, which has led to the development of three customer-focused business segments. Ford Pro, for instance, tries to help commercial customers lower their cost of ownership, while Ford Blue seeks to improve quality across every category of its gas-powered and hybrid vehicle portfolio.

Then there is Ford Model e, which is described as a startup within the OEM that pursues innovation in areas such as electric power and self-driving capabilities. There are also strategic pillars that serve as the foundation for Ford+, Azzouz said, such as focus, collaboration and executional excellence.

“That really helped us prioritize how we’re serving our customers,” he said.

A cycle plan of experiences

Ford has also built out its CX vision by taking a page from its industry’s approach to developing and launching new car models. Azzouz said the firm has adopted a “cycle plan of experiences” that begins with design and development and then moves into a pilot project or minimum viable product before it is fully rolled out. While he admitted companies in other sectors have their own version of this approach, thinking of it as a cycle plan ensures alignment with Ford’s overall business strategy.

“It’s no different than us going through a capital review of future vehicle programs. We’re now doing the same with experiences,” he said. “A lot of our strength came from our product development teams. And what’s fascinating is that those designers on the vehicle side are now coming to the customer experience function to bring value as well.”

Instead of myopically paying attention to the “shop and buy” phase of being a Ford customer, meanwhile, Azzouz said he and his team think in terms of an “ownership experience.”

According to VMLY&R CEO John Cook, this starts with a recognition that many buyers have heard the idea that a vehicle’s value depreciates the moment they drive it off the lot.

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“We’ve taken this mantra of ‘Let’s not let that happen to us. Let’s create absolute appreciation instead,'” he said. “Appreciation vs depreciation changes everything about the way you think about loyalty, subscriptions, and that focus on owner experience.”

The shift to mobile service

Azzouz suggested there is little doubt what most owners want out of that experience: for services to come to them, rather than the other way around. Thanks in part to changes in expectations during the height of COVID-19, he said the automaker has seen considerable traction in its Ford Mobile Service, which offers everything from an oil change in your driveway to complex repairs in the field.

“Here’s what we’ve learned about these remote experiences. Not only are they accessible at scale, our customers love them,” he said. “We’re getting 10 to 15 points NPS improvement versus a traditional type of service experience.”

Ford has also been trying to streamline the flow of customer data that supports its own staff, dealers and retailers. Dubbed the Ford Guest Experience, Azzouz said the initiative required breaking down the silos that would get in the way of progress.

“Like a lot of companies, Ford has been historically a very hierarchical organization,” he said. “For us, the least uncomfortable thing was the promotion of a sole champion across that end to end process. We named what we refer to as a DRI – a directly responsible individual, and at Ford, that’s me. It’s about having the courage to select one person to champion, to inspire and to empower the teams to help prioritize (addressing) those customer pain points and problem-solve.

“If you really want this level of speed, we kind of say you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” Azzouz added. “That’s a muscle that I think we’re all working at developing.”

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