Home » Sharpen customer-experience focus? Good idea. How?

Sharpen customer-experience focus? Good idea. How?

by Media Xpose

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Listening to your customers and colleagues sounds simple enough. But achieving lasting improvement in performance demands major, even disruptive, shifts, writes Maja Smith, Customer Experience Manager at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa.

Virtually every enterprise claims it puts customers at the centre of its business, but only a few can, with hand on heart, really say they have achieved this. That’s because becoming truly customer-centric requires a radical shift in many core business operations, and that’s easier said than done. This is especially so in larger ‘legacy’ organizations where bureaucracy has been built over many years, even decades.

At Ford we are not spared that. We have faced significant challenges. But we’re committed to learning from our experiences and have achieved some major improvements as a result.

Ford has operated in SA since 1923 when it began assembling Model T cars in a disused sheep-shed in Port Elizabeth. It was the first Ford operation outside North America. After 97 years, Ford contributes more than 1% to SA’s GDP.

We recently announced a R15.8bn investment in expanding our SA operations that will enable us to increase our annual output capacity from 168 000 to 200 000. 

Customers want transparency, expertise and care

We know how to build cars that people love, but if we’re going to walk the talk in customer experience, we need to pay as much attention to the complete ownership experience as we do to manufacturing and selling cars.

Our research tells us that our customers value proactive after-sales communications and service. They also want human interaction handled with transparency, expertise and care. And above all, our customers – like all of us – want to be treated with respect.

We’ve done a lot of introspection over the past few years and examined what stood in the way of delivering those needs.

We found that, like many legacy organizations, we had disparate IT systems across the business. We also realized our key performance indicators could be too inward looking. We needed to hold ourselves to the same standards that our customers hold us to, rather than striving to meet internal performance objectives.

We also acknowledged the risk of ‘death by data deep-dive’ or ‘analysis paralysis’, where data trumps action and, like many larger organizations; we spent more time talking about the problems than fixing them.

Hold yourselves to the same standards that your customers hold you to

We took all these insights and countered them with several interventions: First, we introduced APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that allow us to harness data from numerous sources and disparate IT systems to give us a dashboard: a single view of what’s happening in our service and repair centres. Second, we shifted our criteria for measuring and rewarding performance from being inward looking to focusing on customer feedback.

Third, and linked to that, we incentivized behaviour change in our dealer network as opposed to focusing only on sales targets. Fourth, we set up ‘war rooms’ to develop solutions across different departments, breaking down the silos that can develop within big organizations over time. Finally, we introduced a ‘shot-clock’ approach to resolutions and accountability: essentially a time-window for an optimal response.

Those steps all seem pretty straightforward. But the collective impact has been greater than the sum of their parts: a two-thirds reduction in days that vehicles are off the road and halving turnaround time for major repairs has meant a significant reduction in customer inconvenience. In turn, customer satisfaction increased.

The 2020 Ford Corporate Reputation report conducted by Harris Insights & Analytics found that the overall impression of Ford in South Africa grew from 37% in 2018 to 46% last year. Over the same period, trust grew from 53% to 56%, and public perceptions of honesty and quality grew from 53% to 62%.

In short, perhaps most important of all, the Harris Report showed that our customers are starting to trust us again.

‘Safe to fail environment’ that empowers all levels of the organization

Those findings are gratifying. But as stated, reputation is never simply about perception: Socrates said, “The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.” So, any effort to improve one’s image is worthless without authentically improved performance.

That’s why the shift towards good CX is not based only on introducing new technologies or incentivizing our staff differently. Our senior management supports a consultative process with internal and external stakeholders, clear evidence of progress on CX because recent historical data suggests that this was not always the case.

That progress is exemplified in the creation of a ‘safe to fail environment’ that empowers all levels of the organization. Positioning a failure as an opportunity to move the business closer to treating customers like family, without sacrificing accountability? Not easy, but it’s the only way to ensure a long-term shift in corporate culture that improves performance, and, ultimately, reputation.

In the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19, that focus has never been more crucial. Customers are prudent about their spending power and will punish brands which they believe take their customers for granted. Businesses that hope to prosper during what’s likely to be a long recovery will need to ruthlessly hone and sustain their customer focus, and do so authentically.

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Maja Smith is the Customer Experience Manager at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa

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