Are Customers Always Right? That depends…
Imagine you learned you had a rare form of cancer. You search for the most experienced oncologist, who’s pioneered therapies known to work against your disease. The doctor’s expensive, but what value do you put on results? You meet and learn the treatment is something you don’t understand, but history supports what he or she is proposing. Do you argue and try and tell the doctor how to do his or her job, justifying it with your friend in medical school said (fill in the blank), or do you listen?
You may say, “Well, DUH! Of course I’d listen!” But you’d be surprised at how many people do this very thing when hiring a professional to do a job.
When this happens to me, I tend to just walk away from the project. All I can think is “Why did you hire me in the first place? You could have hired a newbie, saved money and they would have done what you wanted in detail!” So, the question is, “Is the customer always right?”
First Philosophy: Money Makes Right
Some people say, yes, because the customer is paying. In other words, I will accept whatever, as long as I get paid. If this is your philosophy, you should ask yourself:
- Am I providing the very best service possible if I’m doing something I know to be ineffective, so as to not lose money?
- If so, when it becomes apparent it’s not working, what will I do when my client cries my service stinks?
- Since a happy customer tells 10 people, but an upset one tells 100, are lost sales and hit to my reputation worth the price?
Second Philosophy: I’m the Expert
Others take it to the opposite extreme and say, “No! I know what I’m doing, so take it or leave it!” This is bad as well. Besides losing sales, you’ll get a reputation for:
- Being hard to work with.
- Narcissism – being a know-it-all
Where is the happy medium?
The happy medium is a gray area. This is where you must balance the benefits to your customer and business. It requires good discernment and wisdom. After all, you don’t want to lose income unnecessarily. It must be a win-win situation!
If a client is paying you for results, you must decide if doing what they ask will still allow you to deliver what they’re buying. Keep in mind they don’t know what they need; if they did, they wouldn’t need to hire you. Therefore, they are depending on you taking their idea and applying your expertise.
If you cannot deliver what they expect with what they request, you must let them know. What I tell my clients is:
“You did not hire a ‘Yes’ man. You hired me because of my experience and unique way of thinking. However, this is your project and anything you don’t approve will not be used. But you must understand that if I disagree with you, I will make sure you know and why. If you choose to ignore my advice and the result is not effective, it’s not my fault.”
That usually makes them blink and lower their demands to what is extremely important, minimizing changes. The reality that they are NOT the expert hits them between the eyes.
However, if they stand their ground and you deduce it will NOT be effective enough to warrant the expense, you have a decision to make. Rarely will a customer accept responsibility. If they become angry, you may have a public-relations issue.
While all businesses need money, at what point are you cutting off your nose to spite your face? In other words, is quick money worth the possible long-term repercussions? Possible scenarios of a hasty decision are as follows.
COMPETING ON PRICE
If you compete on price, it may make you have to lower prices even further. This strategy is never a winner, as you will always have to beat the competition – who may be MORE desperate than you are, forcing a bidding war. Not a good place to be.
COMPETING ON QUALITY
If you compete on quality, you may be forced to compete on price. After all, a case study would show you didn’t deliver what you claim and it’s a he-said/she-said scenario on who’s to blame. Who do you think the public will most likely believe? Therefore, in order to attract customers leery of your quality claim, you’ll have to compete on price. And once you go down that road, it’s hard to return to quality. It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult.
So, the old adage “…the customer’s always right…” is mostly true, but not on all fronts. If you have business partners or a board, this is where it’s a powerful tool. You see, it’s easy to NOT want to lose the business and accept your client’s demands. However, I’ve found being able to say:
“You know, I believe we can do what you are asking, but I need to run this by my (fill in the blank) and get back to you. I want to make sure I don’t over promise and under deliver.”
Then pull back and discuss it. Think clearly about all the possible ramifications before making a decision. You will not only look wiser, you will BE wiser.
If you have tips on how you handle this situation with your customers, please share.