PolyWeb Services
Automotive News article on FOCALpt

Automotive News
Retail Technology
May 12, 1997
Mary Connelly
Staff Reporter

Ford tests system to provide consistent sales and service

The system gives customers information about Ford products, and makes dealership practices more uniform.

When consumers step up to the counter at a McDonald's restaurant they know what to expect. ford Motor co. wants customers to experience the same consistency when they step up to dealership service counters or into new-car showrooms.

This spring, Ford is testing dealership computer technology designed to make a customer's sales or service experience consistent at Ford Division and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships nationwide. By August, dealers are expected to begin ordering the new technology.

By the end of 1998, 1,500 metropolitan Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships - representing 60 percent of the company's sales volume - are expected to be using the new electronic tool.

The system is called FOCALpt, and Ford wants the new technology to make millions of sales and service visits consistently professional at all Ford dealerships. A desktop computer - loaded with software to guide dealership staff through sales or service transactions - is the heart of the new system.

Ford said it is providing the technology at a "nominal" charge to dealership computer system providers, including ADP, Reynolds and Reynolds and UCS, but would not specify the amount. The licensed providers will integrate FOCALpt into their systems, sell it and maintain it.


Dealers will buy or lease the technology from the system providers at an approximate cost to dealers of $150 monthly for each personal computer installed.

Tom Wagner, Ford vice president of customer communications and satisfaction, turned the heat up on the project eight months ago. Ford is investing "tens of millions" of dollars in developing the technology, he said.

No, Ford's new-car customers will sit with a salesperson in front of a computer. Customers will learn product features and see videos of running vehicles as the electronic sales-session progresses.

Neither salesperson nor customer need ever leave the screen.

If a customer wants to compare a Ford with competitive makes, the computer will provide feature-by-feature analysis. If the seller wants to show interior or exterior colors, the computer can comply.

Consistency by Computer
What: Ford's new dealership computer technology
When: Tested this spring
How: Dealership computer system providers sell and maintain the technology developed by Ford
Dealer cost: About $150 monthly for each computer installed
Why: To make handling of sales and service customers consistently professional

The computer can locate a desired vehicle in dealer inventory or among factory build-orders.

Loan applications are submitted for approval electronically after the computer has calculated vehicle price, based on incentives and value of trade-in vehicle.

Customers are then given a printout detailing what was covered in the sales visit.

"We want to bring as much information as we can to the customer and the salesperson so that the facts are always the same: the comparison facts and the pricing facts," Wagner said.

Wagner is so determined to weed out disparities that the vehicles pictured on Ford's World Wide Web site must be the same exterior color as those shown in the FOCALpt system. "We're presenting one story to the customer - down to the color of the cars," he said. Service transactions will be similarly standardized.


Wagner anticipates marketing gains.

  1. More credibility with customers. "What we have found in research is that customers believe computers. They are more credible."
  2. Shorter transaction times. "Today it takes about four hours to buy and take delivery of a vehicle," Wagner said. "With this technology we think we can get it down to two hours."
  3. Fewer effects from poor sales training due to turnover of sales personnel. Everything is at the salesperson's fingertips.
  4. Stronger relationship marketing.

By teaming FOCALpt with Fordstar, the company's satellite communications system, Ford will be able to collect customer information daily from its dealerships.

"As we evolve into brand management, we have got to know more about our customers, their lifestyles, what they are buying and their trading cycles," Wagner said.

In the electronic sales sessions, customers will be asked if they wish to provide information about hobbies, leisure pursuits, magazine subscriptions and similar data needed for targeted marketing.

Eventually, ford will amass a detailed database by vehicle identification number and customer name that will record household information, vehicle service history, loaner preferences and numerous other customer details.

"Incredibly, all we really have known about our customers was their name and address and what product they bought," Wagner said. FOCALpt - which stands for Focus On Creating Advocates for Life through Personalized Treatment - is a global effort. A similar program is under way in Europe. Testing begins in the United Kingdom this spring.

Established March 7, 1996
© 1996-2008 PolyWeb Services, All rights reserved