Ford Is Using Artificial Intelligence To Train Its Dealership Staff

By automotive-mag.com 8 Min Read

Love or hate them, automobile dealerships aren’t going anywhere in the US. The strict dealership laws and the powerful dealer lobby behind them all but guarantee that the established brands won’t be able to offer direct-to-consumer sales anytime soon. 

Meanwhile, the dealer’s job of understanding and explaining how the vehicles work has been getting more and more difficult as the tech inside the cars advances. Then add the fact that more and more alternative fuel vehicles are showing up on the lots in the form of battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), full hybrid electric vehicles (FHEV), and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV). You can quickly understand why dealers need more help and training than ever before. 

Ford University online modules and lessons

(Full Disclosure: Ford provided flights and car service for my trip to Detroit to learn about Ford University)

Ford thinks it has the answer to this: using technology to teach technology. Ford University is an all-new online training platform to help Ford dealers learn about new in-vehicle technology, understand electric vehicles and charging, and train to be better communicators.  

While the platform isn’t designed specifically to teach electric vehicle content, it’s all in there and any other product information that dealers need is too. 

EV training is a key area of focus for Ford University to help customers make an informed choice on what type of vehicle is right for them. We are launching 25 EV-focused training modules covering the fundamentals of EVs, home and public charging, test drives, EV service, and more. We will continue to add EV content as we expand Ford University. – Abby Vietor, Global Director of Dealer Training & Productivity / Head of Ford University

Ford University’s digital experience is different from any other online training system. It’s designed to look and feel more like a social media site—like YouTube, for instance—with recommended videos based on the individual’s previous search history and watched content. This is all designed to make dealership employees actually want to visit the site.

I spoke with Abby Vietor, Global Director of Dealer Training & Productivity / Head of Ford University, about how the system leverages AI to help improve employee communication skills. One way AI is utilized is with communication training skills. Employees are urged to record a short one—to two-minute video in which they introduce themselves, explain their role at the dealership, and then speak briefly about three different topics. 

Ford University

They are then scored on their performance and given specific details of what they did well and what they can improve on. The handful of press invited to this small event was all asked to use the system as a dealership employee would.

I scored a 78 and received a fair amount of feedback (all of which I agreed with) on how my presentation could have been improved. The system also explained what I did well, which is a good thing because everybody appreciates positive feedback as well as constructive criticism. 

I was impressed at how the AI picked out specific words that I used to point out that they were effective and suggested words and terms that I could have included to improve my score. 

Ford University app

There’s also a gamification aspect to Ford University that Vietor hopes will inspire users to engage more with the system. Every employee has their own account and earns points for watching instructional videos and participating in tasks. They also get to see their ranking among employees at other dealerships. The hope is that this will spark their competitiveness and inspire them to engage with the system more frequently to earn points. 

There’s so much information about all the different Ford models that it’s impossible to remember everything without refresher courses. Employees can log into the system anytime they want, 24/7. There’s even a mobile app, so Ford University is always just a tap away.

I believe the key to Ford University’s success will be the dealership management and how they establish training requirements. Managers can also require staff to watch a certain number of training videos per week or month and view the employee’s scores in certain categories that they set up. For instance, if Ford pushes out a new version of its BlueCruise, the manager can offer a bonus to the employee with the highest BlueCruise proficiency scores, and they can also do that for the staff’s electric vehicle knowledge. 

Is it enough?

I couldn’t poke around inside Ford University too much, but I requested the opportunity to do so in the future, and hopefully, I’ll be granted that chance. My concerns are: Is it enough to move the needle with regard to EV education at Ford’s dealerships?

General Motors has taken a different approach to electric vehicle training for its dealers and customers. It started an online EV education site called EV Live. EV Live is an interactive online platform where dealership employees can interact with an electric vehicle specialist in the EV Live studio to learn about not only GM’s specific EVs but EVs in general. The service is also open to the public—and not only GM customers. Anyone can log in and ask their EV-related questions. 

I visited the EV Live studio last year and witnessed first-hand how the EV Live specialists answer questions through a live video feed, and I found it to be an effective training tool. Ford dealers need to up their game with EV knowledge because it hurts F-150 Lightning and Mustang Mach-E sales. This isn’t an easy task; I have first-hand experience with EV dealership training and understand the challenges. However, Ford has to figure it out, or it will continue to struggle to sell electric vehicles. 

Ford University is taking on the dealer training task in its entirety, from learning modules to training sales staff on how to talk to customers. Is it too much for the average sales consultant to want to take on? Time will tell. I know how busy the sales floors are and how little spare time the client advisors have. I hope they find Ford University as engaging as management believes it will be, which will inspire them to log in frequently. There’s a lot of useful information in there, but leading the horse to the water is the easy part; getting them to watch hours and hours of training videos is, well, you know. 

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