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Everything from Hood Ornaments to Tail Lamps Image: Ford Quality Care Service, circa 1965
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Vol. 5, No. 3
August 25, 2010

Ford's Better Idea for Service In 1968
by Ken Wilson

Image: MILEPOSTS Garage

Around 1968, Ford's big advertising slogan was Ford...has a better idea! And they weren't just spinning words, either, as some of their ideas put them way ahead of the competition. Better ideas like reversible keys, which allowed the key to be inserted into the lock with either side up. Identical bits were cut into both sides of the key, so as long as you held it vertically, you were in business! Keyless door locking was another. Push the plunger down before you close the door, and hold the door handle knob in while you close it. It stays shut and locked! No fumbling for the lock in the dark, or in the rain. How about the famous 3-way doorgate on station wagons? Roll the window down, open the tailgate as you normally would on any station wagon by pulling it down so it lies flat. Or, on a Ford wagon, you could use the handle on the right side and open it like a door, using hinges on the left side. And you can open it this way with the window up, too. Better ideas, all of them.

But Ford's better ideas went past the features they put on their cars and trucks. They also extended into the corporate thinking at Ford. For instance, have you ever heard of the Ford Service Research Center? I didn't think so, most people probably haven't. One of their better ideas in 1968 was an attempt to address complaints from customers about how their car was fixed (or not fixed, as the case may be!) The problem was identified as one of communication, where the mechanic wasn't able to fix the problem because he wasn't told what was wrong.

The typical automobile service scenario goes like this: the customer feels something is wrong with their car, so they take it to the dealer's service department to have it repaired. The customer is greeted by a service advisor, who writes down all the pertinent information on a service ticket. The advisor has to interpret the issue and write it down in a limited amount of space to the best of their ability. Keep in mind, this was before computer print outs, so everything was written by hand and not much space was provided to do it.

Image: Ford Quality Car Care circa 1965

If the customer didn't explain the issue adequately, or the advisor didn't write it down correctly, the mechanic was often left guessing what the problem was. So, the Ford Service Research Center devised a way to let the customer talk directly to the mechanic—even in a big dealership. Here's how it was envisioned to work: the customer drives into the service department and meets with the service manager, advisor, or whoever, and instead of filling out a service ticket, they pull out a tape recorder and turn it on. The customer explains in their own words what the problems are, exactly what they want done to the car, or where they think that pesky rattle is located.

The service personnel ask the customer, on tape, any questions that they feel are pertinent to the work requested, as well as making verbal notes on the recording of anything they see wrong with the car after a visual inspection. The car and tape recorder go back to the service area, and the mechanic assigned to work on the car listens to the tape and does the work. The tape can be rewound for clarification, and to make sure everything was attended to. When finished, the mechanic speaks into the tape recorder, explaining to the customer and service manager what work was done, what problems were found, and anything else he may have noticed that would require attention. This created a bond between the customer and the person who worked on their car.

J. A. Kordick, Ford Service Research and Operations Manager, said at the time, "We foresee this verbatim customer problem description as a potential asset in our continuing struggle to diagnose and repair cars properly." Once the details were worked out by service research, limited testing was performed in a handful of dealerships.

The outcome was that the recordings could be difficult to hear, due to background noises associated with a busy service department. (Again, remember this was the late sixties, so they were likely holding a portable cassette tape recorder with corded microphone to make these tapes.) Also, some customers seemed reluctant to be recorded, for whatever reason. Ultimately, this idea was shelved, but it does show what went on behind the scenes in an attempt to improve customer relations, and make the experience at the service department less frustrating.

It was one of Ford's better ideas that you may not have heard about, until now.

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