Why Ford is counting on the Internet of Things to drive customer engagement

Car manufacturer talks about how it's moving away from product-based interactions to a new end-to-end customer experience approach using connectivity

Shifting the focus from engaging customers through a physical product to meeting their modern transportation needs with end-to-end experience management has triggered a major repositioning for car manufacturer, Ford.

Speaking at the recent Adobe Digital Marketing Summit, Ford’s director of enterprise and emerging IT, Rich Strade, told attendees the heritage of the company saw it interacting with customers at a particular point in time.

“We sold a product, and when we sold it, that was the experience people had with Ford,” he said. “They drove the vehicle and all the interactions were about consumption of that product. What we now believe is important to consumer experience is something that marries the product experience with a services experience and that end customer need.”

Strade pointed to a convergence of trends globally causing Ford to redefine how it goes about reaching potential consumers. Megatrends include growing urban populations, a swelling middle class, and changing opinions on how products are consumed, ranging from quality to planetary concerns. Consumer expectations of what they want when it comes to transportation services are also undergoing a shift, he said.

At the same time, the explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT) is opening up new ways of not only producing and automating vehicles, but opportunities to be connected to those customers and be a better influence on their lives, Strade said.

What this has meant for IT at Ford is a lot of growth, and Strade noted overall demand has gone from $1.5bn at Ford to $2.5bn this year.

“The things driving that are innovation itself and new ideas coming to market, new ways of building product itself to make it easier for people to use, and new scope and things we’re looking at doing including new modes of transportation,” he explained.

“We have built a lot of enterprise apps and products that fit into our product. Now we have to look at other things, such as making our existing systems work well and integrate into an IoT situation that expects real-time performance, high availability in many ways. That’s where the workload is coming from.”

This combination of digitisation and changing consumer landscape is seeing Ford move away from being a car company that makes and sells vehicles, to a transportation experience company, Strade said.

“We want to evolve to a car company that still delivers very solid, reliable, safe and quality products, but at the same time, help people do what they need to get done,” he said. “What they really need is to go from point A to point B. So how can we improve that end-to-end experience?”

Emerging opportunities Ford has spied include dynamic shuttle services, multi-ownership for vehicles, and investing in other modes of transportation.

“The circle going around the whole thing is the customer experience; it’s a point in time with the customer to engage them for a much greater area of that lifecycle,” Strade continued. “We know right now, most of our contact is for four hours per year with a customer. If we look at the total life experience of the customer, they spend 90 hours a year in their vehicle, so we’re losing most of that time to make an impression and hopefully shape their view of what we have to offer from a car and services standpoint.”

As part of its transition, Ford is putting an emphasis on building blocks of connectivity. Globally, the manufacturer has also set up 25 experiments to find out what happens in different transport scenarios, such as highly dense cities, places where there isn’t much transportation to begin with, and locations where vehicles not allowed.

“We have to connect the vehicle through embedded modems on all the time, and your mobile device. We need to connect all the time to that,” Strade said. “We want to be able to own the customer experience with our customers, and understand what’s working for them.”

Ford is also about to launch a new mobile app solution, called FordPass, that covers four key services areas: Marketplace, for mobility services; FordHubs, where consumers can experience the company’s latest innovations as well as build customised vehicles; Appreciation, or a membership loyalty offering; and FordGuides, or virtual personal assistance to help consumers move around more efficiently.

Another core element to Ford’s evolution is data, Strade said.

“We believe if you have that connectivity, you’ll be collecting an awful lot of data on what people do and what they need, and you can put that together to figure out what they’d like,” he said.

“In many respects, it’s about trying to anticipate the need. We can’t tell today as we have such a low connection with the consumer, what they really want. People will tell you something… but you can’t always rely on what they think they might need as they can’t perceive what their real needs are. But a vast amount of data could help Ford understand what they need.”

  • Nadia Cameron attended the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit in Las Vegas as a guest of Adobe.

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