Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ford's Missed Opportunity and Why the Basics Still Apply

Another day, another corporation pissing off customers. Have you ever read the book Raving Fans? If not, I highly recommend it. It is a great exploration into how a business can service its customers in a way that turns customers into raving fans. In this day and age with social media and hyper sharing of information, it is more critical than ever for a consumer brand to do its best to not only service its customers, but treat them like royalty.

I have another personal story that is a great example of one reason why our American auto manufacturers are in the mess that they are in, and it has to do with servicing customers.

My wife and I purchased a 2009 Ford Flex last year. It currently has 25,400 miles on it and already is requiring new brake pads. The dealer service manager, who was embarrassed to inform me of this required repair, was obviously uncomfortable telling me about the brakes. I asked him why this was not covered under the warranty and he said that brake pads are only covered for 1 year/18,000 miles. I also have a Toyota 4Runner and I can tell you those brakes last in excess of 40,000 miles. I was and still am incredibly frustrated by this so I reached out to Ford via Twitter and via their web site/customer service email. I informed them of the situation, and why I felt their product was failing their customer. The fact that a new car already had repairs needed was a failure of theirs, and as a customer I wanted them to be aware of this. The response from Ford was less than reassuring. In fact it was down right sad. Too bad Alan Mulally, who seems to be doing his best to resurrect Ford, is being undermined by an inept customer service process.

First off, Ford is not using their social outlets to have "conversations" with their customers. At least not their customers that require attention beyond "What model should I buy?" They basically have some PR folk pumping out the same old self promotional crap that you would find in any press release, except it is limited to 140 characters. They had a great opportunity to not only engage me and help me convert to a raving fan by addressing my situation, helping me resolve it and bask in the glory of my praises, they completely ignored me. They ignored the issue and the result was more ranting about their crappy product, which in turn has been seen by hundreds of other potential or even existing customers and now is being plastered on a blog which has a decent number of readers. Too bad Ford, you slept on an opportunity and now the perception about a lack of quality is being shared with thousands.

The email response I received from Ford was very long, but really did not say a thing. I would post it here, but frankly it would be a waste of space. The sum of Ford's response basically was that they were "sorry I felt that way" and blah blah blah. They offered no solution, no recommendation, no assurance that they even gave a damn. Basically they did their best to dump me off back at the dealership and to "make sure I used quality Ford parts" on the repair. LOL. Why would I replace POS parts with the same POS parts???? Hello, your parts failed within 25,400 miles. That is not a quality product. That is failure. That is junk! Why do Toyota and Honda outsell all US auto companies? The Asian autos DO NOT BREAK DOWN, especially in the first year of ownership. The basics Ford, the basics.

It is no secret that American cars have a reputation for breaking down, thus not delivering on the brand promise of quality. This is the primary reason US auto manufacturers sales are down, and have been trending down for years. The saddest part is they do not seem to care. The thousands of employees laid off, and the huge ripple effect across numerous industries are a testament to this lack of care for the customer.

So, where does this leave Ford and their customer? Well, in this case, I took one last chance on Ford when I purchased this car. I admired Ford for not participating in the ridiculous federal bail out program. They have made several smart decisions in the last couple of years. All that being said, it boils down to the basics - produce a quality product, fight for your customers, love your customers and once you have those down cold, innovate and market your success story. As it sits right now Ford cannot seem to even get the first one right. I will not buy another Ford product until they prove that they give a crap about their customers. Right now, they do not seem to care about much outside of posting fancy 3D renderings of their cars on various media channels and crapping on their customers. If this persists, their resurgence will be very short lived and the raving fans will continue to reside with Asian competitors. It is a sad commentary and one I would rather not feel compelled to write.

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