ManagementSpeak: I’ll get back to you on that.
Translation: I’ll get back to you on that when hell freezes over.
KJR Club member Dave Wolanski didn’t wait that long to provide this excellent example of management misdirection.

Correspondent Geoff Hazel provided the following:

Subject: Vehicle_sales_advertising

You have had a series of web ads promoting some focus groups and reorganizations at Ford. “We’re really gonna get it right, now” is the theme I’m getting from these, an attempt to recapture interest. Listen, you’re wasting your money on these ads. Don’t say you’re GONNA do it, just DO IT. After all, if you DO IT, and do it right, people should notice. If you don’t do it and people expect it, you’re REALLY failed.

Seriously, don’t spend one more dime on that ad campaign.

Ford’s reply:

Dear Geoff,

Thank you for contacting the Ford Motor Company Customer Relationship Center regarding your feedback about an advertisement.

With surprising frequency, a suggestion offered by someone not connected with our company is the same as, or very similar to, an idea developed by the people we employ for that purpose.

Ford’s sales, advertising, marketing and business personnel are constantly working on ideas and programs to market our products effectively and to hold and increase our good will. Many of these ideas are not used immediately, but are put aside for possible use in the future.

In an effort to avoid any misunderstanding concerning the source of material used by us, we have found it best to adopt the policy of only considering or reviewing suggestions related to marketing, advertising, product names, business practices, sales promotions, or vehicle designs from persons employed or retained by us.

If you have any other inquiries, please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to address them for you.



Customer Relationship Center

Ford Motor Company

If Ford thinks this is excellent Customer Relationship Management, just what exactly does it consider excellent engineering to be?

No wonder it’s at death’s door.

This little exemplar of how to do things wrong provides a number of possible lessons for those of us who till the fields of information technology, among them:

Beware the danger of success. Somebody at Ford had a great idea: Build relationships with customers by providing interactive channels for conversations. The concept is sound — interaction results in less emotional distance, and eventually a sense of affinity. This can influence car-buying decisions.

The world is filled with sound concepts. It’s almost as filled with bungled implementations of sound concepts. Here, Ford created the input channel but didn’t realize that it’s hard for customers to build relationships with auto-responders, and especially with inept auto-responders that reply to inquiries with mismatched boilerplate.

Even if the auto-responder is named “Mike.”

Here’s a question to ask everyone who proposes a great idea: “What happens if this works?” Ideas are easy. Proof-of-concept pilots are almost as easy. But unless you’re prepared to deal with the implications of the idea panning out, turn your attention to something else.

Don’t ignore good ideas, just because they come from the “wrong” source. Most people, most of the time, divide the world into we and they. We are the source of everything that’s good and right with the world. We can trust each other. We aren’t like them. They are the reason things go wrong. They are unenlightened, uninformed, and untrustworthy. We are best off ignoring them.

And so, Ford ignored a perfectly valid point — that it’s time to stop making empty promises. Remember when at Ford, quality was job #1? That was before innovation was going to be the star that guided Ford’s compass, which preceded the campaign Mr. Hazel objected to.

As characterized, it recalls the time Microsoft used elimination of its own blue screen of death as the selling point for a new version of Windows. Why call attention to your history of repeated failure?

But I digress. Whoever at Ford decides what to pay attention to decided to ignore a perfectly valid point because it came from the wrong source — a customer, which is to say someone who isn’t considered we.

When presenting an idea, remember that you aren’t “we.” You’re “they.” Even more important, every brilliant suggestion you have for someone else presupposes they haven’t already thought of it.

Perhaps they didn’t. But when you make your suggestion, take into account the possibility that, having spent much more time and energy on the subject than you have, they might have arrived there first.

Or, they might have rejected the idea for reasons that haven’t yet occurred to you.

My daughter Kimberly once gave me some unsolicited advice. “Dad,” she said, “don’t give unsolicited advice. It doesn’t work.” I took her advice.

Just to prove her wrong.