OPINION: Neither dealers nor consumers want Ford's CRM

Last week tyre manufacturer Firestone took the extraordinary step

of firing car giant Ford as a customer in the US.



This goes deeper than a spat between two companies warring over who's at

fault when it comes to product safety.



What this shows is that for all the talk about how customer relationship

management is transforming the way companies relate to each other along

the supply chain, the reality is less encouraging.



The Firestone/Ford saga began last summer in the US when the companies

had to recall millions of tyres sold as original equipment on Ford's

best-selling Explorer sport utility vehicle and Ranger light truck. This

followed reports of a number of deaths and hundreds of tyre failures,

particularly in warmer states.



What has really reignited the simmering feud between the sides was a

report in the New York Times that Ford was considering a further

recall.



Unfortunately, this was the first Firestone's chief executive, John

Lampe, had heard of it. The atmosphere worsened when Ford chief Jacques

Nasser wouldn't return his calls.



So Firestone has abruptly ended a relationship stretching back almost a

century, accusing Ford of trying to shift all the blame onto the

tyres,when the Explorers themselves should also be held to account for

safety problems.



And Ford has now announced it will indeed recall 13 million Firestone

tyres.



This has blown up at a time when Ford, like many of its rivals, is

struggling to reinvent itself in the face of worldwide over-production

and intense pressure on margins, hence the purchases of brands such as

Mazda, Volvo, Land Rover and Aston Martin to cover almost every segment

of the car-buying public.



Ford's intention is to begin to use CRM techniques for both

cross-selling and getting more business from each customer. There's just

one problem, says a new report from Forrester Research. More fundamental

than the distraction of arguments with the back end of the supply chain

is that at the front end, both dealers and customers are blocking

attempts to create a more customer-focused approach.



Few franchised dealers want to cede control of customers to the car

companies.



They currently and reluctantly transmit only the most basic customer

information back to the companies.



The Forrester report quotes one dealer as saying: "The customer is ours.

We have no problem sharing information with Ford, but we do have a

problem if Ford markets directly to customers - dealers are paranoid

about that." Nor do dealers find the prospect data supplied by the car

companies much use.



But neither do customers see a reason to have a direct relationship with

the brand owners. A survey of customers who had bought cars within the

past three years showed that few had heard from either the car company

or dealer since. Even more crushingly, less than one-quarter were

interested in any communication. They want cars, not relationships.



Forrester suggests one way around this is for car makers to use the

latest technology to capture vehicle-specific data, connect with dealers

and converse intelligently with customers. But it should never be

forgotten that fine talk of collaboration all along the value chain to

underpin CRM can start to wear thin. It's still a battlefield out there.



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