A principle in marketing is that the customer is always right. This gives rise to the assumption that customers should be given what they want. Sales people are warned that if they ignore the needs of their customers, the business will soon be on life support. Ford’s comments ignored this rule and yet we still drive Ford cars today.
His flippant comment appeared dismissive of the people who bought his cars. This impression seems reinforced by his statement that a customer “could have a car painted any color that he wants so long that it is black”.
It could be argued that Ford was just expressing an honest opinion of people’s views.
“Faster horses” might have been a metaphor for customers who wanted something better but could not envision it. There are many items we use today that are by-products of NASA research in their quest to reach the moon. We take them for granted, e.g. gym equipment, mouse pads or wireless headsets, but we did not ask specifically for them.
It would be unfortunate to take the given statement as an example of Ford’s disregard for his consumers. As an astute entrepreneur, he was very aware of developments in his field in Europe. Daimler and Benz had already introduced the idea of motorised travel to the world. Indeed, the Wright brothers had used a machine to make the first flight.
Ransom E. Olds had already sold cars to the public giving publicity to the four wheeled horse. Americans were already living in a world where electricity and steam had eclipsed the speed of steeds. Ford knew that that there was a market for cars.
When he successfully created the moving assembly line in Michigan, he speeded up the production process, thus slashing his manufacturing expenses. The features of his car were not substantially different from others but the difference was in the price of Ford’s cars. Ford made the car accessible by greatly decreasing the price.
It is easy to take the remarks of successful people at face value but that gives an incomplete picture. Ford’s respect for his customer could be seen in the value he attached to the product he sold. He asserted that “Quality means doing it right when no one is looking”. Maybe he understood the need for his customers who invest in his cars to have a quality product that will prove good value.
For someone who can be described as arrogant, his view of success is instructive:
“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”
It is unlikely that someone with this view would disregard his customers.
He believed in fairness and that employees should be paid well for their labor .
In addition, he felt that entrepreneurs had a responsibility to their community. It was their obligation to have products that improve society.
Ford built an empire, unaware of the carbon imprint of motorcars or that some vehicles would be recalled because his standards of quality were not maintained. Corporations now are accountable to investors and the moral ethos which underpinned Ford’s business practices are not prioritised.
Despite the modern marketing methods, I believe that Ford’s statement should be assessed in the context of his other statements and his conduct. Today, we use different lenses to look at people’s words which may not accurately reflect their views. This works both ways as we could have respectful language and callous behaviour or facetious comment and principled entrepreneurism.
My partner would not buy a car without heated seats and a reverse camera, features he was emphatic that he did not want at one time. Having used them, he can no longer drive without them. Sometimes, respectful paternalism works. We are adults, but we don’t know what we want until we find it or use it. Ford found it for his generation.
He has the last word:” It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages”. Ford knew the power of customers and acknowledged his dependence on them for his success. He built a vehicle empire on quality, service and respect. His actions speak much louder than some patronising words. Unmindful of these words, I drive a Ford!
Henry Ford was definitely a forward thinker. It is remarkable to consider all the advancements that have occurred in transportation in such a short time. My Writer’s Almanac tells me that on today’s date in 1926, the US Numbered Highway System was started. Most of the highways established were based on heavily traveled wagon trails. Aren’t we grateful to Ford for making the automobile accessible to the common person?
A well-researched, thoughtful vote for Ford and you. Indeed, there is nothing that can beat promotion as satisfied customers at any period in time (with efficiency and affordability). Dissatisfaction pushes us to move on to better options. Well written!
Consumers(people) have ultimate control of the success or failure of any business even the business of government. The pity is that they do not realize that power.
What a very thoughtful piece! We too drive Fords which serve us exceptionally well, and after reading this piece I am proud to say we support the great Ford company (and auto workers) started by a man with a true American dream!