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Henry Ford and Cesar Ritz

Is the customer always King as Cesar Ritz, the founder of the eponymous palace, once said? In other words, should we always obey customers wishes? Well, I’m not so sure about it. Remember what Henry Ford said

«If I had asked to my clients what they needed they would have told me a faster horse».

How should we interpret such opposed statements? At first sight they don’t seem to be to be incompatible.

Both statements can be situated within the relationship customer-firm. On the one hand Cesar Ritz sees it centered on the customer who decides and tells the firm what he / she needs. The firm becomes the co-creator of the customer experience (Grönroos, 2008) rather than the creator (see our articles on co-creation here : 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

On the other hand Henry Ford views the centre of gravity on the firm’s side. The firm innovates and brings to the customers products which fulfill upcoming needs.

My take:

Ritz and Ford’s statements are well compatible. Participative marketing methods (for instance the Lead-User method by Herstatt and Von Hippel) can help detect emerging needs and reduce time-to-market. Moreover customer’s involvement helps reinforce the bonds with the firm. Does it mean that firms should always involve customers? Probably not because as Ford stressed it, breakthrough innovations are sometimes the result of a sole man’s vision.

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Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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