Driving a Digitally-led Customer Experience: An interview with TrustFord

Trustford is the largest Ford-dedicated dealer group in Europe selling over 100,000 vehicles each year which amounts to a staggering 1 in every 6 Ford’s sold in the UK.

Andy Pocock, IT Director at Trustford joined us to host a brilliant webinar revealing how their new cloud-ready Wide Area Network is transforming the performance of its network and IT systems, allowing them to deliver an immersive, digitally-led experience for their customers.

If you missed the webinar, don’t fret because we caught up with Andy to find out how the organisation has differentiated themselves from their competitors by revolutionising the customer experience.

There’s no denying that disruption is taking a strong hold of the automotive industry. The market is in the midst of huge change so how is this affecting car sales and how is Trustford evolving to solve these new challenges?

Well you only have to take a look at the rise in electric vehicle production, ride sharing services and hourly rental operations such as ZipCar to understand automotive retail will be a very different market in the next 10 years. While we can’t influence many of these things, we’re focusing on what we can do – improving our engagement with our customers.

We recognise that engaging with us to buy or service cars can be slow and time-consuming for our customers; it’s also time-consuming for our staff because unfortunately, we’re still heavily paper-driven.

To give you an example, we create Deal Packs to support vehicle sales which contain all the paperwork relevant for that sale; depending on the complexity of that deal, the pack could have up to 50 pieces of paper. We have an archive on one of our sites with boxes and boxes of packs which we keep for possible reference.

You’ve probably all experienced the wait to book your vehicle on for service, or to pick the vehicle up. If you call for a status update it can take some time for the service advisor to find out if the work’s been finished.

So how are you planning to improve your engagement with customers and speed up these processes?

Well our ambition is to digitise and simplify the entire process, and to give our customers much more visibility and control. This could range from online service booking to automated check-in of vehicles. We’d also like to make all our customer-facing employees mobile so we can go to our customers and transact at a time and place convenient to them.

We started by digitising our deal packs which give us improved ability to track and audit deals and removes the geographic constraints of handling a physical pack. We’re piloting an improved service process which will eventually give customers visibility of where their vehicle is in the workshop.

We’ve recently implemented systems to create videos of vehicles both in sales and service to send to customers to better present used cars on sale, or to show where vehicles need work – such as brake pad wear. And we’ve just implemented systems to support our latest initiative – Take Me Home Today, where a customer can arrive on site, complete the sales process, and drive away – all in an hour.

In the Showroom, at our premium sites, we’ve also introduced video walls that will showcase new product and features, using digital media assets provided by Ford, where customers can configure vehicles in real time, and we can link this to our back-end systems to create the sale.

This all sounds really exciting. But what do you think is the key to enabling this digital transformation?

Much of the technology I’ve mentioned above is enabled by the LAN and the WAN. We’ve invested heavily LAN-side over the past few years, creating a wired and wireless infrastructure across the whole compound at all sites to enable mobility. This has enabled us to conduct a deal out on the forecourt, for instance, or record a customer video at our presentation spot so our customers can log on to our free Wi-Fi and we can track their movements around the site and push notifications to them about special offers. This also allows us to track vehicles around the site for customer progress updates or simply stock control.

Of course, most of this activity requires access to central or cloud-based systems. This means that we are increasing our consumption of bandwidth, and driving more intelligent use of the bandwidth we have – prioritising video, allocation of bandwidth for specific services, bursting for business peak demand.

How did you go about selecting the right cloud services provider to help prepare your network for digital transformation?

So initially we invited tenders to renew and from there we selected a shortlist of 5 which quickly became two – ANS and the incumbent.

When we received the final tenders we were pleased to see that not only had ANS addressed all of our requirements, but had proposed design features we had not requested. This gave us confidence that ANS had not just read and responded to the technical requirements, but had really understood who we were, and where we were going as a business.

We felt also that ANS had a better commercial fit to us. Our incumbent was a global Tier 1 provider supplying trans-ocean connectivity for large organisations. While the people we engaged with were great, and they had the structure and organisation to support us, we always felt they were hamstrung by those protocols – for example 24 hour support was provided on a follow-the-sun principle, so we would end up talking to desks in the US, if we were working into the evening, to people who didn’t know us. We felt that we were not a big enough customer to exert the necessary influence our business demanded.

With ANS, we’re placed where we like to be – not their largest customer, but large enough to feature in their top table – a bigger fish in a smaller pond, if you like. A small example of this is when the tender presentations were made, the CEO sat through the whole 5 hours – for me, a simple but telling measure of the importance of TrustFord as a prospect to ANS.

Cultural fit is also a huge factor for us. We have a very strong ethos to drive what we call our PPA – our Purpose, our Principles, and our Ambition – through the business. Part of our PPA is about being a great place to work so that we can attract great colleagues to our business, so we invest a lot of time and effort in listening to our teams to get their feedback on how we can make things better, and we’ve achieved recognition for this being featured in the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For listings, and ANS also feature in these lists, so we know they feel the same way as we do about our respective workforces.

That’s all really positive to hear. How well did the project roll out go? When organisation go through a WAN upgrade they usually have to face some downtime so how did you work with ANS to ensure downtime was minimised

As a business, we operate on such low margins that any downtime has a disproportionate effect on the operation. We chose to upgrade at each site during working hours to conserve cost and were keen to minimise disruption. We were very pleased with the outcome – our briefest outage was 80 seconds and we routinely achieved 2-3 minute outages. We regularly took the risk to implement with only primary or secondary because of the reliability of the service and the benefit to the business. I’m still in a job, so I count that as successful!

Now that the project has been completed, the business no longer feels constrained and network congestion and its impact has completely disappeared off my board agenda. There is confidence in the business that we have chosen the right partner to support us to deliver the digital and technology strategy we need to take us through the headwinds that face the automotive industry in the next few years. So it’s onwards and upwards from here!

To read more about the project, view the case study here.

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