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Ryan E. Day

Customer Care

Corporate Leaders Bet on Consumer Experience for 2014 and Beyond

Ford Motor Co. tips its hand

Published: Thursday, June 26, 2014 - 12:35

“We don’t have any binder full of best practices for you. You are it. If you don’t want to change the world—go home.”
—Brett Wheatly of Ford Motor Co., to the first candidates for coaches of the fledgling Consumer Experience Movement (CEM) program

When Chris Hunsicker, potential coach to Ford dealerships, heard those words from Wheatly, his surprise was understandable. After three days of CEM orientation in Dearborn, Michigan, Hunsicker looked around at his colleagues and confessed, “I’ve waited 20 years for this level of work!” What follows is a remarkable “bet the house” tale that began at the highest corporate echelons and managed to beat the odds by surviving the translation from mantra to frontline operation.

In the beginning: Corporate-level enthusiasm

More than a few organizations have penned a mission statement which begat a slogan that was hailed by corporate as a mantra, presented to all stores and staff as their new guiding principle, but was then summarily ignored by employees and eventually forgotten.

Once in a blue moon, however, we watch business history being made. Such was the case when Bill Ford Jr. invited Alan Mulally to spend the weekend at his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and began wooing him with his vision of radical transformation for the Ford Motor Co. Mulally was eventually converted and recruited, and during the ensuing eight years he did indeed oversee a radical change at the faltering automaker. One of Mulally’s contributions to the company’s turnaround was the “One Ford” plan that continues today as an internal mantra: “One Ford: One team, one plan, one goal.”

Allan Mullaly’s name—and mantra— is now synonymous with Ford’s new era of success. By many accounts, the Consumer Experience Movement (CEM) program was brought into existence by Mullaly’s passion for excellence—and a shopping trip with his daughter. According to Justin Hansel, general manager of the Hansel Ford dealership in Santa Rosa, California, Mulally was so impressed by his experience in an Apple store, he became convinced that providing a world-class consumer experience at Ford dealerships would be key to developing long-term loyalty to the Ford brand. Hansel, who was part of the original pilot team of dealers, recounts the Apple store story in the following video:

Dealer buy-in

If you’ve never heard of Ford’s CEM program, you’re not alone. Like One Ford, the CEM was never intended for public consumption, but for the edification of the company’s front-line employees at the dealership level. Elena Ford, great-great granddaughter of Henry Ford and vice president of Ford’s global dealer and consumer experience, provides a good overview of the program’s conception and implementation:

All cheerleading aside, the fact remains that out of all the positive consumer experience proclamations birthed at corporate headquarters, very few make it to the actual consumer as anything of value. So what makes the CEM different? How did the consumer experience movement survive where so many others have failed? Ford executives determined from the outset that buy-in from dealers would be the first key. The path chosen by Ford leaders wasn’t rocket science, but it was rock solid. It also exemplified a no-silo, all-inclusive, team-oriented approach that, right from the beginning, was (and still is) the cornerstone of the program. Justin Hansel provides some personal insights:

Not lost in translation

Although Ford successfully rolled out its CEM program to the dealers, the mantra-cum-movement had to navigate that final and crucial hurdle—employee buy-in, aka employee engagement.

This last piece of the puzzle eludes many well-meaning leadership teams. Sometimes there is a huge disconnect between corporate executives and front-line employees, a chasm too wide to bridge. It is ultimately “out there,” where the employee stands as ambassador for the mantra—or not—that the success or failure of any initiative is determined. It’s no wonder that employee engagement is such a hot topic. Leaders who truly recognize this fact understand the gravity of giving employee engagement more than lip service.

It is at this critical juncture that Ford tapped a neutral third party, in the form of a non-Ford coach, to facilitate implementation of the CEM at the dealership level. Sometimes it is the simplest of insights that have the greatest effect. Contracting with third-party coaches has proven to be an invaluable strategy that provides the store owners and their employees with an objective person who is able to present metrics and tactics from a position more palatable to employees than someone from Ford. This also means that the coach wears multiple hats, ranging from mentor to lightning rod.

Chris Hunsicker, who was also part of the original pilot group as a CEM coach to the Hansel Ford dealership, says, “The magic of the CEM program is that it operates on a principle of discovery. The employee survey and the mystery shoppers provide data. The store owner can then discover if the results are going to achieve their goals.”

“Sometimes discussing the results of the survey is brutal,” Hunsicker acknowledges, but he goes on to explain the positive aspects of the program. “Rather than focusing on what the dealer is doing wrong, we focus on what they are doing right and how they can do that more consistently. The role of a CEM coach is to help dealers move from insight to action, and to turn data into dollars.” When asked about the unique nature of the coach-dealer-employee relationship, Hunsicker replies, “We believe that our relationships result in a non-duplicative competitive advantage, and that results without relationships are just too limited."

Justin Hansel shares some of his experiences with his store’s coach:

It would be easy to dismiss the simplicity of the program if it weren’t for its overwhelming success. Certainly Ford’s overall success during the past eight years is due in large part to a series of shrewd business moves and brave gambles, but it seems that the automaker’s depth of commitment to the consumer-centric ideal is operating on a level rarely seen. And, hey, would it really be so bad if it all boiled down to a rock-solid plan and blood-n-guts effort?

In the following video clip, Elena Ford sums up the CEM dynamic and what the triumph of the program means for the continuing success of the company:


About The Author

Ryan E. Day’s picture

Ryan E. Day

Ryan E. Day is Quality Digest’s project manager and senior editor for solution-based reporting, which brings together those seeking business improvement solutions and solution providers. Day has spent the last decade researching and interviewing top business leaders and continuous improvement experts at companies like Sakor, Ford, Merchandize Liquidators, Olympus, 3D Systems, Hexagon, Intertek, InfinityQS, Johnson Controls, FARO, and Eckel Industries. Most of his reporting is done with the help of his 20 lb tabby cat at his side.


Hunsicker or unsicher ? (German language)

Hi Ryan. Yes, Ford is very big in Italy, too. Its Fiesta dominates its market class, it's bigger than the Fiat Punto and the Renault Clio. In other - higher - classes Ford still suffers its image of "poor" quality against Audi, BMW and Mercedes, for example. I don't think it's mainly a question of training dealers, consumers are so volatile they buy fashionable items rather than sound ones. It's not the case of the Ford Fiesta, of course, it's a good car but it's practically not advertised, yet consumers keep buying it. I therefore think there's further work to do to know and understand how and what consumers buy. Regards.