The only car accident I've ever had was when I managed to reverse parallel-park into a telephone pole on a busy Sydney street. As I'm due for a new car, I was quite excited when I saw an ad showing the Ford Focus Titanium reverse parallel-parking by itself. I started doing my research online.
Like all the major manufacturers, Ford has a "book a test drive" feature on its website and on the face of it, it's a very clever marketing tactic. Ford is fulfilling the potential buyer's needs without them having to even pick up the phone or walk into a dealership to get service.
Ford would simply ring me to organise a time I could go to the nearest dealership for a test drive, the car would be ready for me when I got there and off I'd go.
Sounds so easy!
It sounded like the perfect solution for a busy business owner like me so I filled in the online form and waited for Ford to respond. That was over two weeks ago and I've had no call. I filled in a "Contact us" form on Ford's website but yet again, no call – no contact whatsoever. I turned to social media and tweeted at Ford that its "test drive" feature seems to be failing. Still no response.
A few things we can learn from this experience
I know this sounds obvious but it is really important to respond in a timely manner to customer inquiries, no matter what channel they arrive. Although email has been commonplace in business for 10-15 years, many companies still fail to manage multi-channel operations properly. And if companies can't deal with an email inquiry appropriately, what hope is there for social media?
Marketing needs to work for people who don't work in marketing
There are two problems here. My initial request for a test drive went into a black hole and subsequent attempts at follow-up were ignored. It may be my local dealership that didn't action the request for a test drive, but there should be some sort of validation process at Ford's end to ensure this sort of thing doesn't happen.
I suspect that someone in marketing decided, "Let's get into this social media thing" and Ford responded by setting up a Facebook page and a Twitter account. But these social media channels weren't embedded into Ford's "marketing stack" so they're not regularly monitored. Ideally, marketing, sales and customer service should be working together and someone at any one of those three levels – or in Ford's PR department – should have picked up one of my many attempts to communicate with the company and responded.
Social media as a customer service tool
Social media has a huge potential to be used as a customer service tool if it's done correctly. Ford UK has a state-of-the-art multi-channel sales management and communications platform that Ford Australia would do well to emulate. Otherwise, a lost lead is – in the worst case – a lost sale and I'd argue that if a company doesn't have the processes in place necessary to make social media work as an integral part of its marketing stack, it should stick to traditional channels.
Shortly after publication, Ford's global head of social media, Scott Monty, responded to this piece on twitter, and in the comments below:
"This is obviously not how it's supposed to work, and I will admit that our social media capabilities are not necessarily equal in every market around the world," he wrote. "This is largely due to different budgets, staffing arrangements and sizes, and how long a particular market has been involved in social.
"We're probably the most advanced in the States, with the full support of communications, marketing and customer service, although even there we are still not yet fully integrated between our legacy web systems and the social web. But monitoring is a crucial factor in our success and it should be the gold standard around the globe."