There are few industries where the notions of “concierge” and “buying experience” would be as unlikely to appear in the same sentence as when referring to the process of buying or servicing a car at a dealership.
To bring the concierge spirit to an industry that is as entrenched as the car-buying experience is to take on a behemoth, no hyperbole necessary. But that is what the Ford Motor Co. set out to do in order to set itself apart from its competition.
To “see like a concierge,” looking through this lens when it comes to the customer experience, is demonstrating the expertise and ability to listen and solve problems better and faster than the average person would be able to on their own. Concierge service is more than individualized service. It requires an informed person with the emotional intelligence to take the idea, question or service to a logical progression: To a place that the customer might not have thought of, never mind not expecting to be offered up.
As with everything, there are different levels of concierge service, the quality of which will vary. But, suffice it to say, it is still a valid and ongoing service model often associated with high-end hotels and properties, and all the expectations they inspire.
What could this mean for a car manufacturer like Ford? Looking back decades, the view is largely the same. Car manufacturers are companies that make products built by engineers. Marketing efforts by those companies are about selling these products. Dealers are about distributing these products.
In other words, the car “companies” never came near the customer – if by customer you mean the driver.
When I spoke with Suzy Deering, former global chief marketing officer at Ford, she told me she didn’t care about the way things had always been done. What she knows is, Ford never touched a customer. When the company created ads and websites, when it promoted itself, it spoke of what its engineers had created: the car. There is nothing wrong with this per se. However, in an age when corporate responsibility and responsiveness loom large and the consumer has a voice that is loud and clear on social media platforms, failing to communicate with your ultimate customer felt like a big mistake.
It’s true, customers did occasionally hear from the car company. When their warranty was about to run out, Ford would reach out to sell them an extension. When something went wrong, they’d hear about a recall. But this wasn’t communicating, and Deering saw this with a clarity that convinced her something needed to be done about this broken system.
She stepped forward to say, “We are not in the business of moving chunks of metal from our factories to our dealerships and hope they land in someone’s garage. We need to take a longer view. We need to speak to experience. We see experience as a growing and important part of what makes people act: to buy, to share about their purpose, to repeat that act of buying.”
With a new management team at Ford, Deering developed and set about enacting a bold, audacious mission of shifting the goal of the company. When you think of concierge service, your mind immediately jumps to a hotel; with good reason. A hotel is probably the first time most people hear the word and more likely, the first time you see someone with a button on their clothing declaring this to be their purpose.
Bringing the spirit of a good hotel concierge to the car industry was not going to be easy. When Deering started to think of bringing a concierge mentality to Ford, she, too, thought of hotels. Basic hospitality. The kind of service that is offered consistently regardless of location. Deering described the shift to me as one from where Ford was mostly about making great cars – which she still believes is one of the major points and one about which she has enormous pride – to one where it started seeing drivers as its customers rather than the dealerships.
Taking a page from hotels and other industries that rely on ongoing relationships, Deering developed a Ford mobile app, putting power in the hands of the consumer to ask for and coordinate what they want and when they want it. In the past, drivers were at the mercy of what the dealership may or may not be willing to provide. On the app, you have the ability to book appointments based on what is easiest for you. If you want to buy a car, with a few clicks you can purchase and arrange to pick it up at the dealership of your choice. Very easy. The app embodies frictionless communication and interaction from the get-go.
In order to bring concierge service, you have to make access to service easy. Deering saw the extent to which concierge service is far easier to provide when the technology is there to make it possible. And, she understands the limits of what tech can provide and where the human factor is vital.
Bringing the human component on board means there needs to be a lot of dealer network education. Some may already be providing concierge-level (or close to it) service, but the point is to achieve a level of consistency and establish expectations across the brand.
Excerpted from “Seeing the How: Transforming What People Do, Not Buy, To Gain Market Advantage,” copyright © 2023 by Allen P. Adamson. Reprinted with permission from Matt Holt Books, an imprint of BenBella Books Inc. All rights reserved.
Allen Adamson is co-founder and managing partner of Metaforce and an NYU Stern adjunct professor. He is a noted industry expert in all disciplines of branding. Allen has worked with a broad spectrum of consumer and corporate businesses in industries ranging from packaged goods and technology, to health care and financial services, to hospitality and entertainment. Allen is the author of “BrandSimple,” “BrandDigital,” “The Edge: 50 Tips from Brands That Lead,” “Shift Ahead” and “Seeing the How: Transforming What People Do, Not Buy, to Gain Market Advantage.”
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