NOTE: HERE’S SOME INTERESTING FACTS ON HOW CUSTOMERS DEFINE QUALITY. HATS OFF TO FORD. ATTACKING QUALITY FIRST THEN TELLING THE STORY EFFECTIVELY. FORD IS GETTING IT RIGHT. =DP
Quality Paying off as Ford Draws in New Customers
By Diane Majeske
DEARBORN — Janet Asdell sees quality in the gleaming angles and smooth curves of her new Ford Flex. She hears it in the solid sound of the doors closing, and she feels it every time she settles in for a ride.
“To me, quality is all about the look and the sound and the feel of a car,” said Asdell, 47, of St. Clair Shores, Mich., who bought her 2009 Flex – her very first Ford purchase – in February. “This car meets my needs, but it’s more than that. I feel good just being in this car.”
To Alexandria Lucente, quality shows up in the low numbers at the gas pump, in the 35 mpg fuel economy rating of her 2009 Ford Focus – the 20-year-old’s very first new car. “I wanted something that looked good, but I wanted to save money on gas, too,” said Lucente, a junior at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. “This car is very cost-effective. I love it. It looks great, and it’s reliable.”
Quality can be difficult to define – it’s a wide-ranging concept that veers from fit and finish to infotainment, depending on who’s doing the judging. But at Ford, researchers have taken that concept and narrowed it down to tangibles that not only benefit the customer, but put Ford quality on par with any other carmaker in the world. In fact, the company has developed a three-pronged strategy that keeps quality ingrained in every aspect of Ford’s business practices.
“Quality, in its truest sense, is the ability to provide a product or service that satisfies a customer completely,” said Bennie Fowler, group vice president, Global Quality. “I don’t define quality – customers define quality. We have a very structured approach at looking at customer satisfaction.”
To find out how consumers viewed Ford quality, researchers combed through surveys. They looked at historical trends, at customer satisfaction rates. They talked to people who recommended Ford to their friends, and to those who dismissed the brand out of hand. They listened. They learned. Then they put the knowledge to use.
To add structure to their strategy, Ford researchers used a framework known as the Kano model, a theory of product development that classifies customer satisfaction into three basic categories, said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president, Global Product Development.
These categories are:
• Basic Quality – the fundamental reliability of the vehicle
• Performance Quality – includes attributes such as fuel economy and quietness that usually fall into the “more is better” category
• Excitement Quality – those unexpected convenience features that surprise and delight consumers
“It’s not about either/or,” Kuzak said. “It’s all three. We’re still consumed with basic quality, but we’re now also very focused on providing appeal and excitement as well.”
Through features such as SYNC, Ford’s exclusive handsfree infotainment system, and EasyFuel™ Capless Fuel-Filler System, Ford has been adding conveniences customers want.
Recent studies done by independent third-parties show that Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles are ranked higher in quality than the industry average. Ford also scored well on the latest list of “Recommended Buys” in the 2009 auto issue of Consumer Reports.
Quality was what sold Randy Bumbalough of Lake Mary, Fla., on the Ford Expedition Limited he chose in January when he traded in his GMC Suburban.As an architect, the 40-year-old father of three active boys said design as well as fit and finish were crucial to him.
“If you don’t have the right design, if everything doesn’t fit together well, nothing else really matters. This car looks really nice. It fits my needs, it has all the bells and whistles, and I feel good driving it,” he said.
Such comments are being heard more and more these days by Ford employees.
“Our quality is on par with anyone in the world, and I stand by that 100 percent of the time,” Fowler said. “We’ve shown dramatic improvements.”
Such product excellence is essential, he said. So, too, are the processes that lead to that superiority – from design to manufacturing to service. And only people – innovative, motivated, properly trained employees – can make it all happen.
With customer expectations high these days, Kuzak said Ford is up to the challenge.
“Quality is all about customer satisfaction and loyalty. If a customer buys your brand again, there’s no greater statement of satisfaction,” he said. “They were so satisfied, they came back.”