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Friday, November 2, 2012

MyFord Lack of Touch Is Still a Problem -- and Growing

Ford has been accomplishing some great things lately through the internal-branding portion of its new "Go Further" brand positioning.

Inward has been in touch with Sarah Tatchio, who heads Ford's internal branding, and she has confirmed that all sorts of internal markers - both anecdotal and quantifiable - are showing that Ford's executives, managers and rank-and-file employees are embracing Ford attributes in a whole new way and seeking how to make the brand, indeed, go further on behalf of Ford customers.

But as is often the case when companies are doing most things right, doing one important thing wrong - and very visibly - can undermine everything else you might be accomplishing. Ford faces exactly that dilemma right now.

Ford's products enjoy high esteem among American consumers for meeting their transportation needs with a top-notch new lineup. And the brand continues to carry good will that it established when it spurned a taxpayer bailout in 2009. But despite of of this, Ford's brand equity actually could be going in the wrong direction for just one reason.

Why? It can't get MyFord Touch correct. And third-party organizations that also are widely respected by the American public, including Consumer Reports magazine and J.D. Power & Associates, have been downgrading Ford's performance in their quality ratings for almost two years now. In fact, Ford seems on its way to stealing defeat from the jaws of victory.

Its ground-breaking first infotainment system, Sync, garnered a lot of interest in Ford vehicles by younger consumers, especially -- and a lot of sales. But when it brought out MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch last year, essentially Sync 2.0, Ford made the mistake of trying to jam too many possibilities into the system and then designing ambiguous and even confusing customer interfaces for those more numerous and more complex functions.

One example: too many requirements to touch the system screen to make it work, not enough traditional buttons and switches.

Ford customers have been penalizing the company for foisting this problem on them for nearly two years now, at least in Power and Consumer Reports customer ratings and expert evaluations. Company executives said about 18 months ago that they grasped the seriousness of the problem and were moving to correct it. And they came up with a software upgrade that they sent to all users.

The result? Not good. Consumer Reports downgraded Ford yet again in its latest annual report on vehicle reliability, plunging the brand down to 27th among 28 total brands in the study, almost entirely because of the MyFord Touch problem.

Mind you, the MyFord Touch fiasco isn't exactly a problem of perceived lack of quality, like poor interior materials or squeaky brakes would be downgraded. And it's not exactly a safety concern like Toyota's unintended-acceleration problem was -- though some drivers are made nervous by how long it takes sometimes to find their way around a MyFord Touch screen.

But whatever it's called, Ford buyers are not happy with MyFord Touch nor how long it's taking Ford to rectify the situation. And the longer it goes on, the more Ford risks severe long-term damage to the brand equity it has so brilliantly and steadfastly built over the last several years.

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