Wednesday, September 30, 2009

NASPC OEM Aftersales Website Review, Phase II – Huge Improvements With Ford and BMW Moving to Best-In-Class

I recently received the following email from Ford (copied with responses):

Brett: I hope things are well with you. At the last conference in Indy, you mentioned the importance of having a good website to interact with customers. We couldn't agree more. We just launched a new site called It's designed to be a "one stop shop" for everything related to your vehicle. It's in its early stages, but we're already seeing strong traffic and revenue opportunities. You'll notice we serve up service specials, sell ESP contracts, show owners manuals/service schedules, etc. We also link to Ford Credit which enables customers to pay their vehicle bills each month. In the near future, we're also going to include video on "how to's" with our vehicle technology and features like navigation, SYNC, etc. You can view a lot of the information without entering a VIN. Again, early days but we see plenty of potential. I'd be interested in your thoughts when you get a chance. Thanks.

David: Will do. If I come up with something positive, can I write a blog around it?

Brett: Absolutely. Thanks again.

The new Ford web presence is spectacular. Ford leaped from back-of-the-pack to best-in-class. They are now the benchmark to gauge all others by. Since the end of March, 2009, when we did our first aftersales website review, the magnitude of change has been staggering. The dark green in the chart reflects improvement vs. the light green, which represents the March 30, 2009 starting points (except for a few companies where we adjusted their original scores downward). Most of the improvements were made in the OEMs’ service parts-related pages. The nature of the improvements have been mostly leap-frog in nature, rather than incremental. For the most part, auto OEMs have made the biggest changes, and they have displaced CE/Ag at the front of the pack. The big news is in the nature and quality of working with search engines like Google and Bing, as well as in the development of Owner Center websites. We will spend most of this blog on these items.

In Indy we talked about the logic behind putting more focus on the aftersales web presence. Customers have rapidly transformed over the past decade; we now have a click fulfillment culture. Google was a key transformative seed in all this – they made it easy to parse out a need and get a page full of relevant responses to that need. Bing is just as good as Google and gives us choices in need fulfillment. We need no more proof of this transformation; now is the time for action. If people routinely use Google to find things, people will routinely use Google to find service and parts education, service and parts fulfillment, and service and parts purchase extensions. Here’s the choice we all have. We can continue to hammer out 30 and 60-second radio and television messages that market to someone who happens to be watching a particular show at a particular time on a particular frequency. We can place ads in magazines only a few people read. Or, we can make smaller investments in our internet strategy (that conforms to our customers’ natural click behavior), and merchandise along the paths that our customers now naturally travel when gathering information and making choices. This is not just about cars and pickups; it is about tractors, excavators, motorcycles, and Class 8 trucks.

We talked about this at the NASPC in April. The OEM web presence is a fairly inexpensive forum for educating aftersales customers and providing key information that resonates with trust/value/cost/convenience. If we do this well, we will get high service retention. In order for us to accomplish this on the internet, we need it to be easy for customers to access, and it needs to be innovative to hold their attention (see our “Recession Busters and Low Hanging Fruit” blog for details on the scoring). Ford, now ranked in the best-in-class group, tells a compelling story that links all this together. Let’s take a little journey.

First off, go to Google and type in “Ford Service.” Google works in mysterious ways, so you may see something different, but you will probably see a well-placed link to the Ford owner site, and you’ll probably also see a map with links to local Ford dealers if you want to buy parts or schedule service. Many of the other auto OEMs have been working with Google to optimize their dealer listings. On the non-auto side, typing in “John Deere Service” gets similar results, but without the map and listing of local Deere dealers – Deere customers have to go to their homepage and use the dealer locator. The Ford approach is more convenient and should be more effective at channeling customers to dealers.

Clicking on the top line of the Google search (assuming Ford’s Google ad strategy targets you as well as it targets me) brings you to “” (Ford-Lincoln Mercury). If you have a Ford product, you can register it (the chart is from my daughter’s Escape Hybrid - she is a greenie). Once you make it through the registration (a somewhat cumbersome process that could use some refinement – GM’s owner site just asks for where you live and then loads your vehicles up for you automatically), you are welcomed into the womb of Ford owner service retention. You can immediately see all the service records for your vehicle at all the Ford dealers you’ve visited – this is incredibly impressive. It is sort of like a Ford MySpace – you can track your service records, contact dealers, print off service coupons, buy and price-out extended service contracts … there simply is not enough space to list and describe everything. Let’s just focus on service contracts – this is stunningly brilliant. You can get easy options, and exact costs, for extending your warranty as well as buying pre-paid service. There are a host of alternative financing options for these. But, do we trust these costs to be competitive? Yes, we can click on a chart and get an explanation that the costs we incur for these services are reasonable.

Too often I hear that Ag is different, heavy truck is different, construction is different. Maybe everybody but me really is different. I have a mini-excavator and I’d like an owner site to help me manage service. I have 3 tractors – I’d like an owner site for these, too. My wife won’t let me get a motorcycle, but if I had one, an owner’s site would be a perfect way to sell me more and keep me in the fold. Ford’s Owner Center is a brilliant step forward in approaching customer service retention from a basic behavioral point of view. We increasingly type and click to learn things and make purchase decisions. Farmers, hard-hats, and truckers do, too.

Once GM gets you to their service site, you are 1 click away from a dazzling dealer locator. I’d call it simply perfect. You get a special offer, a map, address, telephone number, and some background on the dealer clicked upon. Still confused? They have a chat function so you can talk to somebody. It simply does not get any better than that.

Ford and GM have taken two different paths in the overall architecture of their Owner Centers. Ford self-hosts their Owner Center, while GM relies on Yahoo to host theirs. So, for GM you have to set up a Yahoo email account, and be smart enough to figure out where you have to check 14 times not to get special Yahoo marketing communications (my favorite “marketing preferences” box to uncheck was “meeting someone special or a new friend”). Once I set up my Yahoo account (one that I must confess I will never use), loading in my GM trucks was extraordinarily easy; I clicked on my auto-fill toolbar button and clicked one GM search button – it found my trucks in about 3 seconds based on my address. Unlike Ford, however, it did not load in my dealer service histories. These are quite extensive (since I’m a dealer/distributor kind of guy) … I guess I’ll have to load them in myself.

Beyond some of the details, the overall focus of each Owner Center differs remarkably. Ford’s focus is on intelligent integration of the post-sale ownership experiences – it is all about choices I make with my vehicle while I own it. GM, however, paints with a much broader brush: I can manage various accounts like OnStar, I can keypunch in my service records, access special offers, talk to Fritz, learn about OnStar features, start dreaming about my next car or truck, access Chevy in the news, or read my Chevy newsletter. In short, it is the nexus of pretty much everything an owner can think of. In retailer jargon, Ford’s Owner Center is the service retention end-cap; GM’s is the main aisle of a general store.

So, what’s the bottom line? I called Brett Wheatley at Ford and asked him. First off, the Owner Center was a Ford FCSD-controlled initiative. So that’s why it is so focused on the ownership experience and not a more diluted corporate interest grab-bag. Since the launch, service contract sales are up and they have seen a big increase in scheduled service appointments via the internet. Soon they will integrate Sync applications inside (in addition to and will become the virtual iTunes nexus of Sync applications. One big benefit is the ability to capture current owner emails. Are they happy with Yeah, I could hear Brett’s smile while talking to him on the phone.

To retain customers, we can brilliantly leverage technology to integrate customers into an easy-to-manage, hands-off ownership experience and give them the information and key resources that will keep them coming back. In 2007-8 we talked about onboard diagnostics information being like your equity account statement; you look at it sporadically to check your equipment’s health. Owner sites are more like your checkbook- you use them pretty regularly, but the actions involved (pay a bill, schedule an oil change) are pretty straightforward. In either case, the focus needs to be on providing the right information, not marketing carpet bombing. People want relationships that are easy to manage. If we find these tools too complex or intrusive, we will get frustrated and find something else that meets our needs with less hassle.

The message in all this is to let technology do much more of the heavy lifting in your service retention strategies. Our society is already headed in this direction and many of our customers are used to experiences beyond most of our present capabilities. You need to ask your enterprise, what are all the core customer requirements that can be better served by lower cost technology? Recently, Carnie Colliver’s son, CJ, had his buddies over. CJ filched Carnie’s credit card out of his wallet, searched a local pizza place on his Dad’s iPhone, clicked on the link to call, ordered, gave the credit card number, and got food delivered to the door. This is not equivalent to the “teach a man to fish” process. CJ just turned 11 and no one taught him to do this. As CJ said, it was easier “than going into the kitchen and making a sandwich.” Technology is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a core life requirement.

Need more detail? Once we saw the incredible improvements made by Ford, we assembled a four-person team to review the websites for the entire group and document the path to best-in-class. While we were at it, we re-engineered our scoring system to accommodate the innovation and change that had taken place since March. You can email Jessica at to enquire about the availability of this report.

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