Consumers Expect Companies To Get It Right

By Jeremy Anwyl July 7, 2011

My Ford Commentary.jpg

A couple of weeks back I penned a column that argued car companies and consumers are increasingly disconnected in terms of the importance of new technologies, how vehicles factor into consumers’ lives and where customer desires and government ideas about new technology diverge. Last week, J.D. Power conveniently offered up a vivid example of this with their latest Initial Quality Study. The study headlines a dramatic drop in Ford’s initial quality scores, partially triggered by drivability issues related to new fuel saving technologies – but the bulk of the decline was related to consumer confusion over technology interfaces, particularly around the new MyFord Touch (above) onboard-connectivity platform.

Forget the rather obvious point that interface confusion is only loosely related to “quality.” What really jumped out was the inference that the best way for Ford to improve their score next year would be to drop MyFord Touch altogether.  That's correct. The best way to improve J.D.Power defined quality is by not offering a feature.

I would be the first to agree that Ford has some work to do in streamlining and simplifying MyFord Touch. This was driven home when I was in Palo Alto a few months ago interviewing Don Norman for our safety conference. During an on camera demonstration with Norman, sitting in an Explorer loaned to us by Ford, the system simply froze (insert your favorite Microsoft joke here). I learned it’s not so easy to “reboot” a vehicle with keyless ignition.

But if I were running a car company and could choose between Ford’s position of offering technology like MyFord Touch versus the competition’s position of scrambling to find an alternative, I would pick Ford’s any day. The latest IQS kerfuffle is an example of how one of the lenses through which many view the industry has grown distorted. Consumer tastes are changing, their values are being reshaped.

Two things are driving this. The first is that vehicles have gotten better. Twenty years ago, there were important variations between vehicles in terms of safety, defects, etc. Today, these differences exist on paper, but in the real world, variations are not statistically important. Vehicles today are all pretty good. Secondly, this is good news for consumers, but it also means that they will increasingly look to other attributes to differentiate vehicles. Ford is correct in identifying in-vehicle connectivity as one of those areas. Has Ford got it all figured out? Clearly, not yet. But they are further down the path than their competitors.

A final thought: Consumers preferences are a moving target. And in this area, the movement is at a speed that the auto industry has not historically been able to follow. The real challenge is not to keep up with consumers. It is to get slightly ahead of them. To sense consumer needs even before they are fully formed and to launch products; services; whatever, that nail it. Apple is the current standard bearer for companies that do this well.

That has to be the benchmark. It is not whether Sync is better than OnStar. Or whether Entune is a response to Sync. It has to be about out Appleing Apple. I know this is a game changer. That is the point; the game is changing. We need to keep up.

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