Ford Motor Corp. (NYSE: F) subsidiary Lincoln Mercury has expanded a successful pilot program that allows consumers to communicate directly with company product specialists over the Internet before purchasing a vehicle.
The program walks a fine line between selling directly to consumers by referring all prospective customers to a local dealer. Lincoln Mercury then serves as a middleman between the dealer and customer. The program, however, shows the potential for major car companies to get directly involved in car sales via the Internet.
The “Personal Consultant” program, which was initially run in California and Atlanta, Georgia, is now available in Cincinnati, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Orlando, Florida. Other cities will be added over the next few weeks and months.
The service can be reached through BuyerConnection, Ford’s consumer Web site.
A Human Being at the Other End
In the spirit of personalized online customer contact, the Personal Consultant lets users obtain product information, arrange test drives, secure a price quote and even arrange for vehicle delivery from the customer’s dealer of choice.
The staff communicates with Internet customers via e-mail or telephone, based on customer preference. Specialists respond within 24 hours, and there is no charge for the service.
“Shopping for a new vehicle online can be isolating and stressful,” said Harlan Lassen, Internet manager for Lincoln Mercury. “We believe our Personal Consultants, by adding a human touch, can make buying a car online a more enjoyable experience for consumers.”
Warming Up the Auto Buying Process
Many consumers prefer shopping for a car online because it takes the pressure out of the buying process. Women have especially expressed a dislike for the car showroom, with its aggressive sales forces and confusing sticker prices.
Last year, consumers turned to the Internet both to gather product information and to propose purchase prices. The Personal Consultant is designed to make the Internet experience even friendlier by putting the consumer directly in touch with a company representative who can answer questions about features, options and even prices.
Third Party Link
In conjunction with Personal Consultant, Lincoln Mercury has incorporated a link from their sites to a third party automotive information service, Car Club. “Our consumer research tells us that Internet shoppers want many kinds of information, and they want to get it from objective sources,” said Lassen.
“We are now providing consumers with more information than they’ve ever had before,” he added.