Jim Farley, Ford executive vice president-global marketing, sales and service and head of the Lincoln brand, says his company’s retail-retooling effort has been well-accepted by dealers, and those following the game plan are posting nearly 5% better returns and scoring higher in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Ford co-created its “Consumer Experience Movement” program with dealers four years ago, concluding buyers would be more satisfied with the brand if they were more “engaged” in the sales process. And engagement, which Ford sees as translating into word-of-mouth recommendations and positive social-media chatter, will increase if customers find dealership employees are fully vested in their jobs.

In other words, happy employees equal happy customers, says Elena Ford, vice president-Global Dealer and Consumer Experience at Ford. Since 2011, overall customer engagement has increased 50% at participating Ford dealers worldwide, she says.

Participating Ford retailers in the U.S. have seen a 2.1% gain in customer-satisfaction scores in both sales and service, return on sales has increased 0.4% and service loyalty has jumped 3.7%, Elena Ford says.

The automaker’s multistage process begins with an internal survey to ferret out employee attitudes about their jobs and co-workers. That is followed by a third-party analysis of the operation and, finally, coaching from an independent expert chosen by the dealer from one of two companies contracted by Ford. The automaker won’t say what the program costs to implement, but says it splits the tab evenly with the dealer.

“These are hard things to do,” John Leeman, a megadealer with Ford Retail U.K, says of the self-examination process that can be uncomfortable for employees and dealers alike. “It has caused shock, denial, and then you go through an acceptance curve. It gets people to work together.”

Canadian dealer Ron Loveys, of Whiteoak Ford Lincoln, agrees. “It’s a shock-and-awe thing. But we see it as an opportunity.”

Even those employees who come under fire from the process “just wanted to do better,” Loveys says. “We have not lost a single employee.”

In fact, it’s just the opposite, Elena Ford says, citing results in Canada, where sales staff turnover has dropped to 34% for dealers following the program, compared with a 40% average overall.

“We’re seeing lower turnover in the U.S. too,” she says, though hard data isn’t available yet.

Ford officials and dealers here aren’t specific about the types of changes made, because the program is worldwide and issues differ from dealer to dealer and country to country.

But a common theme is the evolution into a more collaborative, interdepartmental approach to managing day-to-day operations, all focused on what’s best for the customer.

“Leadership is more of a team now; it’s less about individual units,” says Brian Godfrey, general manager at Pat Milliken Ford in Redford, MI. “We’re more open about what the issues are, and we work as a group toward one goal: taking care of the customer.”

The program has transformed the dealership’s hiring process, Godfrey says. “We now look for people that will fit into this new culture.”

The program is voluntary, and while Ford has 1,000 dealers participating worldwide, including 600 in the U.S., there are many who still resist.

“That’s OK,” Elena Ford says. “They may have other priorities at the moment. And the dealer or the general manager really has to believe in the Consumer Experience Movement. If his energy isn’t in it, he shouldn’t be doing it.

“But it is in their best interest to embrace it.”

Kraybill agrees the OE programs are on the right track, specifically when it comes to adding product specialists inside and outside of showrooms, such as BMW and GM are doing. People want to learn new skills and feel as if they’re climbing the ladder, so a structure that lets employees come in as product specialists and advance toward full sales positions gives them a sense of a career path and decreases turnover, he says.

“That’s the way you’ll see the industry start to move. People like BMW are going to start to push it.”

dzoia@wardsauto.com