Ford Customer ExperienceThe act of driving, as with most aspects of our modern life, is becoming an increasingly complex endeavor. This is especially true for the auto industry as it faces a host of new customer engagement challenges that require brands to develop a higher echelon of interior, interactive, and integrated systems. For the Ford Motor Company, this means combining emerging technologies, advanced physical and digital designs, and deep consumer understandings to streamline the entire customer experience.

The synthesis of these elements is seeing the innovative automaker thoughtfully create vehicles that bring new levels of clarity, simplicity, meaning, value, and safety to its loyal customer base. This is the goal that the brand strives to reach as it looks to produce the next generation of Ford and Lincoln vehicles.

Parrish Hanna, Ford’s Global Director of Human Machine Interface, detailed this mission when he spoke onstage during a Speaker Spotlight Q&A called “Elevating Experience with Design” at CXNYC 2015, Forrester’s conference for customer experience professionals.

Hanna addressed a challenge that many in the auto industry face, which is drawing a distinction between features and experiences, and the growing complexity between the two.Ford customer experience

“At one time, with the Model T, there were maybe three or four functions around starting a car, having a horn, and so on,” said Hanna. “Now we have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds.”

These advancements have happened over time, and have followed certain evolutionary phases of development. And just as other industries are similarly grappling with the development and integration of these new technologies, so too are major auto manufactures increasingly wondering how all these pieces fit together.

To generate the customer experiences that many people want, automakers are designing cars that include dozens of sensors, multiple cameras, digitized dashboards, voice activated commands, computerized interfaces with advanced display features, and more. And these are just the features that humans have control over, and the capabilities that most people still maintain some degree of familiarity with.

But Hanna also detailed the host of next gen features that use advanced artificial intelligence to oversee safety features that can, for example, intervene and assume command to avoid an accident, or even self driving traffic jam assist features.

“A lot of people have not had the opportunity yet, but I will tell you that it is jarring to be in full control of a car doing 70MPH, and then just relinquish control of that car,” said Hanna.

These next gen features are on the horizon, and they are numerous, and Ford must begin to decide what will improve the customer experience and how they can be efficiently, successfully, and safely integrated into the product design.

To complicate matters even further, Ford must also take into account driving behaviors and customer expectations. Through a host of studies, Ford knows, for example, that drivers are 23% more distracted when texting while driving. So it must consider what types of new technologies can help discourage these behaviors and mitigate the associated risks.

The sheer rate of technological change is also a factor. Since advancements are progressing at such an accelerated rate, Ford must also allow for various real-time product upgrades to meet the rapidly changing customer demands of newer and younger drivers.

The number of considerations is astounding. They even extend beyond form and function and into the realm of emotion as Ford also analyses how customers feel about the cars they drive.

To manage these considerations, Ford, of course, relies heavily on all forms of qualitative and quantitative research. From comprehensive data analysis and detailed face-to-face ethnographic studies, to lab-based scientific experiments, Ford studies every aspect and angle of the product design and customer experience process.

“A thread through the whole process is the orchestrating of this information and understating what is physical and what is digital,” said Hanna. “And we definitely have some tenants.”

The first of these design tenets is an emphasis on being able to do everything from the steering wheel. And Ford places a high degree of priority on making this centralized functionality not only inclusive, but also simple.

Secondly, Ford also conducts modeling by using virtual prototypes, which can bring engineering data together to simulate the driving experience before the manufacturing process even begins.

The third tenet requires the brand to focus on a wide range of consumer demographics. For example, vehicles must provide an exceptional driving and customer experience for everyone from 16 to 90 years old.

Of course, Hanna was careful not to disclose every tenant, but the insight he did offer provided a glimpse into the level of care, consideration, and the depth of understanding that effective customer engagement across the auto industry now requires.

What’s more, these customer experience demands and protocols are only going to increase and evolve as we move forward.

“In the future, we are going to have a grand awareness,” said Hanna. “Cars, at some point, will start to intervene on driver’s behalf, and I think that there are a lot of new paradigms coming. It will be interesting to see how that awareness starts to affect our perceptions of driving, our desire to drive, and even the marketplace as a whole.”

About the Author: Mark Johnson

Mark is CEO & CMO of Loyalty360. He has significant experience in selling, designing and administering prepaid, loyalty/CRM programs, as well as data-driven marketing communication programs.

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