31 August 2016

A smarter brand experience – what Ford should learn from Tesla

The release of interesting new cars always gets my attention. In fact, my wife would say that I spend way too much time thinking about my next car.

As a lifelong fan of the classic ’65 Ford Mustang, I was excited by the arrival of the new model but also fascinated by the arrival of Tesla and their electric cars. I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to experience each of them.

So when I found myself on holiday, walking into the Tesla showroom on a hot day in Palm Springs, California wearing my shorts, t-shirt and cap with a mate in similar attire (looking slightly more disheveled), I thought that my chances of getting a close look at this innovative $150k automotive machine, let alone a test drive, was unlikely. As an Aussie, clearly on holiday, I was the least likely person in the showroom to place an order.

I was warmly welcomed by the receptionist that noticed my accent and asked me where we were from, offered us a cool drink and introduced me to Brenda, a salesperson in her 60s. Sharing my passion for cars, having worked in the industry for most of her life, Brenda knew her product and took us through fascinating insights about design, innovation, service and the brand. She left me with the impression that she was the first person in the showroom every day and loved what she was doing. I was enthusiastically offered a test drive and even as I nervously handed over my Australian licence I was still thinking I would be told not to waste her time.

But after an hour long test drive and various speed and handling tests on the Californian desert roads, Brenda and her two disheveled Aussie holiday makers returned to the showroom. We thanked her for her time and the drive and left.

Months later, in Australia, I was delighted to finally see a few new Ford Mustangs on the road for around $60k. As a passionate follower of the classic, the opportunity to place an advanced order for delivery in about 12 months was very inviting. It would leave me time to talk my wife around to the idea.

I called ahead to the Ford showroom and spoke to Brad (the salesperson) to make sure the dealership had a car available to look at.

Walking into the showroom, the receptionist and every sales person in the place failed to make eye contact. After waiting for a few minutes, I asked the receptionist if I could possibly speak with Brad. After telling me he wasn’t around, she finally checked with someone else who managed to find him in the tearoom. Brad gave me the distinct impression I was interrupting his afternoon tea break and he was doing me a huge favour in taking the time out to show me the car.

After finally locating the vehicle on the yard, Brad pointed out the magnificent machine and said, “I guess you want to have a look inside it?” Unsure of how to take his question, I laughed and brushed it off. He located the keys and starting it up, I was absolutely impressed with the throbbing sound of the big engine. “Ok, shall we go for a drive?” was my next obvious question. Brad was ready for this and said, “Sorry we don’t do test drives unless you place an order or you are a serious buyer.”

That’s where the story ends! I left the showroom, my love of the Mustang still intact, which is more than could be said for Ford as a brand.

For me, these two contrasting experiences are a valuable lesson in why people are the most important part of any companies brand strategy. It reminded of three key learnings:

  • Hire people who are passionate about what they do and want to share this passion even if there is no prospect of a sale in the short term.
  • Even the most loyal and likely customers will leave you as a result of a poor experience.
  • Make sure your team members understand that they are responsible for your brand and that this enthusiasm can add to the success of the brand and business.

And what has been the outcome for my relationship with Ford and Tesla?

Well, Tesla got my deposit for a Model 3 that is unlikely to show up in Australia until 2018. Everything I experienced with Tesla confirmed for me that is was worth the brand switch and the wait. A great product coupled with a super impressive customer experience.

And in the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy my love affair with a classic Ford – and leave Brad to his tea breaks.