DETROIT — As unhappy customers dominate social media to share horror stories, companies including Apple, Amazon and Delta Airlines have named top executives to eliminate problems — and Ford Motor Co. has taken notice.
“We can see where the customer pain points are and improve them. We are going to have a laser focus,” said Elena Ford, who on Monday was named chief customer experience officer for the Dearborn-based automaker.
“Whether it is getting oil changed or dealing with a call center, experience is important,” she said in a telephone interview with the Free Press. “Loyalty is very important. We want to be easy, thoughtful and caring about the way we handle situations. Every day, I will wake up and worry about how customers feel about their interactions with Ford, whether they’re browsing our website or dealing with Ford Credit renewal.”
She has spent time recently in Beijing and Dallas, studying customer behavior and corporate strategies worldwide to identify problems that plague customers. She has studied what other multinational companies are doing to track and improve outcomes.
For example, when Delta Airlines upgrades a loyal customer who ends up in a middle seat, it does little to enhance the experience, based on consumer feedback.
Tracking performance, rewards and outcomes is essential in today’s corporate environment, Elena Ford said.
“This effort is global. We’re doing it in China, Brazil, Europe and throughout the U.S.,” she said. “Companies including Disney, Marriott and Jet Blue have been very successful. As an auto company, we do a lot to attract customers. We need to worry about people coming back and re-energizing them. We want to keep customers in the Ford family.”
In her latest role, Elena Ford, 52, will report to Joe Hinrichs, Ford president, global operations. She will continue to be closely integrated with the sales and marketing organization and global dealer network. She has served as vice president, global dealer and customer experience, since 2013.
“Elena is the ideal leader to take on the challenge of bringing Ford to world-class levels in terms of customer experience,” Hinrichs said. “She has a genuine passion and unwavering focus on doing what’s right for our customers and a deep connection with our dealers. She has the ability to work across the Ford organization and regions and will ensure that everything we do is designed around the customer.”
Elena Ford has been working with CEO Jim Hackett and her cousin Bill Ford, executive chairman of the board, to create a plan to improve customer engagement.
“The entire leadership team is behind doing this. We’re taking the customer experience seriously, and working to create a customer experience management system — like in the hotel industry,” Elena Ford said about creating a “CXO” position.
Ford Motor Co. has wrestled with a series of challenges in recent months, including a six-year low stock price and a Moody’s Investment Services rating downgrade to just above junk status. Earlier this month, the company announced plans for a global workforce reduction that will result in fewer salaried positions.
Elena Ford made headlines in April 2011 when she was charged with drunken driving and child endangerment because her 11-year-old son was in the Ford Explorer with her.
She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years’ probation and ordered to perform 240 hours of community service.
Elena Ford was pulled over in Ferndale for speeding on Woodward Avenue and driving onto the median. She registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.18. Under Michigan law, a driver with a level of .08 or higher is considered intoxicated. Ford had no prior driving offenses.
People often talk about her 131-foot yacht, Unity, which was too big for the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club marina, so she paid for weeks of dredging of the harbor on Lake St. Clair.