Ford’s addition of free sat-nav upgrades to its scheduled servicing might not seem like a big deal, but it is yet another sign of the shift in the way new cars are sold in Australia.
Where once Ford rode proudly on the back of Falcon and its thousands of fleet sales, it is now only months from the end of local production on October 7 and the swap to becoming a full-line importer.
Nowadays the money is in private customers – that’s you folks – so Ford is hell-bent on selling you a car, servicing it and then keeping you coming back to the dealership for more … and spending more.
It’s not like Ford is alone in hearing the penny (or should that be dollars?) drop. ‘Customer experience’ is now a byword in the industry. Holden and Toyota, which exit local manufacturing roughly 12 months after Ford are making the same sort of noises.
Mind you, some other Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) such as Mazda have been headed down this path for more than a decade, so Ford and co. have much ground to make up.
“Customer experience is as important as new product launches,” declared Ford Australia president Graeme Whickman.
“I think we have to change with the times. Things are changing around us. I don’t think it is necessarily an indictment or a criticism of the way things were done in the past it’s just quite simply consumers are looking for something different.
“Their benchmarks are very different; their expectations of technology are very different, how they get treated. They are benching us against a new Telstra flag store or an Apple store.”
Ford’s sat-nav offer applies to all vehicles fitted with SYNC2 and runs until 2024 when the system will no longer be updated. It will save owners $79 per-year, per-car – if they service at the dealership. So there is a cost for Ford, but also a mighty benefit if it convinces more customers to stay loyal.
The sat-nav offer is part of a much larger initiative Ford Australia has developed based on similar ventures by the Blue Oval in North America. Here it’s called ‘Dealerships of the Future’ and now covers more than 75 percent of its customers and also includes free service loan cars; auto club memberships; iPad-based shopping and service apps and even motor show-style unveiling of purchases to new owners.
Evidence that this approach is working is in the stats, Ford claims. Service retention is up 37 percent since 2012, while sales are up 16.4 percent in 2016 – reversing a consistent downward slide since 2004.
“Customer experience is the new frontier and I think people are now waking up to that,” said Whickman.
“Our job is to build on the gains of the last 18 months and determine where we go next because we are determined to be known for our customer experience.”