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.
ABOUT $150 PER PC PER MONTH
Dealers will buy or lease the technology from the system providers
at an approximate cost to dealers of $150 monthly for each personal
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
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
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.
- More credibility with customers. "What we have found
in research is that customers believe computers. They are more
- 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
- Fewer effects from poor sales training due to turnover of
sales personnel. Everything is at the salesperson's fingertips.
- 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
"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.