Wholly-owned by Ford Motor Company, but with its own separate board and leadership team, TrustFord is the largest Ford dealer group in the country. It employs around 3,000 colleagues and operates from over 60 locations. As well as selling new and used cars and vans to retail customers, TrustFord also runs a vehicle service operation and a national fleet operation - almost one in every three Transit vans on the road is sold by the company.
With over 1.8 million customers across its network, TrustFord’s customer relationship marketing (CRM) team looks after the customer database, supporting its service and sales renewal programme and driving the company’s strategy for customer loyalty and retention.
Phil Rutter, who heads CRM for TrustFord and leads a team of five, is responsible for managing the group’s data and deploying its customer communication strategy. His role also focuses on the safe governance and ongoing analysis of campaigns and renewal projects.
A difficult road
The team was initially using multiple, siloed CRM systems and gathering insights from numerous different data sources, making it harder to extract and use accurate and integrated information. “The varying lifecycles of customers and vehicles, coupled with the complexity of some customers having multiple vehicles, and some vehicles having a history of multiple owners, makes a simple, accurate, and up-to-date view of the data essential to accurate customer communications,” explains Rutter.
TrustFord engaged a data partner to implement data analysis software, Apteco FastStats, to help the team improve its understanding of the data and enable them to produce more targeted campaigns. Once the platform was implemented, the team recognised that they needed the ability to further customise campaigns and increase the usability of the data.
Rutter comments: “As a significant amount of the CRM budget is spent on organising, maintaining and optimising our data, it was important to secure a strong partnership with a team that we could work well with going forward. We began to look for a new partner who could support FastStats, deliver the customisations needed, and work with us on a collaborative basis.”
Following a review of relevant partners, commercial director of Qbase, Neil Martin, arranged a scoping session to determine TrustFord’s requirements.
Getting a steer on the data
To make FastStats fit for the group’s purpose, Qbase had to first address TrustFord’s complicated data infrastructure and, whatever the format, integrate all the different data stores and sources into a single customer view (SCV) - a single, easy-to-read record of customer data.
Rutter explains: “Although it would probably have been easier to start from scratch and create a new data structure, it was important to us to keep it as close as possible to what we were used to working with, so Qbase had to reverse-engineer our data set-up before FastStats could be rebuilt.”
The project team at Qbase had to sift through TrustFord’s data granularly to triage and quality control it and map it back to its correct location. They also had to recreate the journeys and variables TrustFord continuously used for campaigns.
Qbase implemented Cassie, a preference management solution from Syrenis, to capture customer preferences and built this into the FastStats platform so the TrustFord marketing team could see which customers were eligible to receive specific communications when creating a campaign selection. The team also integrated email service provider, Communicator, into the platform, providing email and SMS capability and enabling reminders to be sent via customer-preferred channels.
“There was no overlap of the two systems, so we were working against tight time pressures - ‘switching off’ our previous supplier one day and ‘switching on’ Qbase immediately after. We had to make sure everything was correctly lined up and ready to go,” says Rutter. “Although the preparation and lead up to the switch was handled with lots of care and consideration, taking the leap was nerve-wracking. Thankfully, it all went smoothly and we were able to maintain business as usual.”
Since Qbase integrated the data and rebuilt FastStats, TrustFord has been able to query the customer database effectively and produce more relevant and timely customer communications, including MOT and service reminders. Campaign data is now automatically fed back into FastStats so the marketing team can learn from performance and use this to inform their strategy moving forward.
Rutter notes: “It has helped us to improve our knowledge of our data so we’re able to ask different questions - not just who is going to receive a particular campaign, but which message would be most relevant or helpful for a particular group of customers. The ability to segment in detail has allowed us to reduce communications per customer by 8.5% year-on-year, allowing us to reduce marketing wastage and target customers more effectively.”
“We’re also seeing better engagement with our direct communications. According to Communicator’s January 2021 benchmark stats, our open rate is 23.3% higher than the rest of the motoring segment,” he adds.
TrustFord has also been able to make huge time savings and boost productivity as a result. While it would have taken its previous system around six hours to run a report for a service reminder, FastStats can collect the same information in just 30 seconds and at a reduced cost.
The ongoing change request process in place also allows TrustFord to make improvements along the way. Qbase listens to what the team wants to do with the platform, runs an impact assessment to determine the right solution, and goes back with costs and recommendations.
Changing up a gear
TrustFord has more projects and ideas in the pipeline, including the rollout of Apteco’s campaign automation tool, PeopleStage. “It will enable us to work with the live, interactive element of the customer data and help us with decision-making and getting relevant communications out to customers in a timely fashion.‘’