A Confusing User Interface And Poor Usability Are Killing Ford’s Quality Ratings

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Believe it or not, new electronic systems with poorly designed software are to blame for a substantial decline in Ford Motor Company’s quality ratings. According to J.D. Power & Associates, Ford’s reputation for quality has been declined rapidly in the last 2 years. Survey data collected by JD Power has dropped Ford from 5th overall in quality 2010 down to 27th by 2012. The problem? Aside from some minor vehicle launch issues, the culprit for this quality is the poor usability of MyFordTouch – Ford’s fancy new computer system that controls everything from the stereo to the air conditioner to interior lighting.

Despite Ford’s best intentions, consumers have been confused by the function of Ford’s system since it first started rolling out in 2010, and since that time Ford customers have been blasting the automaker on quality surveys. If this story tells us anything, it’s that usability and design is critical to the success of any computer device. What’s more, if you roll out a system with poor usability, it will drag down the quality ratings of your entire company.

Smart Cars Aren’t Always User Friendly

MyFord Touch has had usability issues since its launch in 2010 (Source:ConsumerReports.org)

When Ford debuted their in-car entertainment and vehicle management system known as MyFord Touch, they became the first full-line automaker to embrace “smart” vehicle systems. At the time, Ford’s innovation was hailed as the beginning of a new era – the first step towards a smart vehicle. However, while the MyFord Touch system was supposed to impress consumers with its sophistication and “smart” abilities, it has been plagued with a variety of problems. For the past two years, consumers have complained about confusing and complex interfaces, achingly slow responses, and a variety of software glitches.

Compounding this problem for Ford was their decision to implement the MyFord Touch system in their full line-up as quickly as possible. While this decision was intended to help establish Ford’s technological leadership with consumers, it now looks like Ford rushed an unfinished product to market. Consumers who purchased the MyFord Touch system came away with far more complaints, and these complaints ultimately ruined Ford’s rankings on the J.D. Power surveys.

Many Smart Car Systems Aren’t Ready for Prime Time

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“With its MyFord Touch multimedia system’s quality issues, Ford was one of the automakers to see its initial quality score decrease” Source: JD Power & Associates

Ford isn’t alone when it comes to losing its perceived quality reputation. J.D. Power explained in 2011 that as automakers have striven to introduce advanced computer systems, they have exposed themselves to myriad complaints about the way these systems functioned. Many consumers don’t view these systems as intuitive, and in some cases the systems were sold before they were adequately tested.

While there are many critics of the methodology used by J.D. Power to determine quality – the survey doesn’t distinguish between problem severity, meaning that a major quality problem like tire falling off is weighted the same as a minor problem like a buggy computer system – consumers do look at J.D. Power results. A low quality rating can have a damaging effect on an automaker’s reputation.

While Ford has announced it is working on upgrading the MyFord Touch system, it remains to be seen if J.D. Power and Associates surveys will give Ford quality a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Only time will tell.

Still, this little story should server as a stark reminder: there’s a difference between leading edge technology and bleeding edge technology – if you launch a system without the proper amount of testing and design, you can ruin the reputation of your company.