When Is the Customer Right?

August 15, 2019

The answer to whether a customer is truly always right depends mostly on your perspective. If you are a traditional salesman, this might be a useful mindset to apply as a policy to ensure customer satisfaction.

If you’re working on product improvements get used to the idea that your client may not be right every time. 

In the late 19th century, industrial production accelerated and the general population gained the ability to purchase necessities. Producers needed a way to consistently generate high demand. This phenomenon brought about the still-popular saying that “the customer is always right.”

This concept was made famous by great pioneer store owners Marshall Field in Chicago and Harry Gordon Selfridge in London and has remained relevant to the present day. 

Over the past century, advancements in science and technology alongside changing social and economic structures have questioned this principle — and rightly so. The business world's complex dynamics have made it clear that the customer is important, perhaps even the most essential part of the business, but they’re not always right. 

Thinking that customer demands can’t be questioned has brought about many disasters for brands and service providers, as well as the customers themselves.

Customers Have Problems, and You Have Innovative Solutions

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” - Henry Ford

Industrialist Henry Ford brought revolutionizing innovations to the automotive production processes, and his quote perfectly describes the limitations of customer vision. 

Innovation and change can come from supplying obvious and stated needs, but going beyond customers’ expectations is the most successful and profitable option.

Consider this issue from the perspective of business development and improvement.

It feels logical to cater to consumer demands because most service providers prioritize their needs - If customers don't believe you care about needs, they are likely to move to a company who does. 

Why do customers leave a company? 
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Accounting for consumer demands without heuristic analysis or solid data analyzed by scientific methods might cause similar disasters for you and your clients.

In short, the customer always wants the best she/he knows, not the best. Producing a better option can also mean radically changing the values a customer is strictly tied to. 

If Ford had chosen to create what customers wanted instead of taking the risk of change, the Mustang name would only refer to a species of wild horses unique to North America.

Your Clients Know Themselves, But You Know How to Manage Projects

In a project where customers expect your support, they might expect always being right also. 

Consumers might know their own potential, product needs, and the team better than you, but professional project management by experts and the production of data-driven analytical solutions are both undoubtedly more important than “being right.”

When kicking off a project, the safest tactic is to reduce the number of people on each team by one. After all, less is more when it comes to decision-making processes, and the best thing to do is create a small but a solid team, including key decision-makers, to expedite the design and production phases.

When Is the Customer Not Right?

If your customers don’t feel like you’re on the same team, you’ll have to waste time convincing them the work you have done is valuable instead of doing your job. It is predictable how this waste of time might affect your project - that is a long-term disaster.

Your customer is not an expert. On the contrary, the value of working with you is because he or she needs your expertise, experience, and perspective. Make sure knowledgeable customers don’t ask for support without paying for it.

Customers rarely give up what they’re accustomed to easily, so they need to be convinced. This isn’t an easy task; at times, it can even be impossible. Even the word “change” can feel terrifying sometimes. As a service provider, you need to properly manage customer’s reactions to change.
Kubler - Ross model of moral and competence of customers' reaction to change over time.

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Customers may first experience shock, denial, and frustration before they start to experiment with the new idea and integrate it into their daily processes. 

Basing innovative ideas on existing data, relevant research, and similar examples will significantly shorten the time it takes to persuade customers. Otherwise, quickly suffering financial loss and loss of motivation is nearly inevitable. 

Express your data in a way that’s as easy to understand as possible.

The planned financial return of a project does not always guarantee that it will be profitable. Several factors can negatively impact team members:

  • High expectations
  • Extended working hours
  • Arbitrary decisions
  • “One step forward, two steps back” processes

Unpredictable factors often extend the project deadline, and there’s, unfortunately, no compensation for this damage.

Let’s go back to our original question: When is the customer right?

The answer relates to the core values that should be a part of every relationship in both our personal lives and at work:

  • Customers should be able to integrate and communicate well with the service provider’s team
  • Define the scope of the project as accurately as possible by extensively analyzing the needs of your user base
  • Have users participate productively in the process instead of cutting in constantly to interrupt
  • Aim to provide solutions by sharing needs that arise during the process with the project team 

Beyond the short description above, you can include additional criteria to improve the experience for both your customer and your project team. It’s easy to conclude that a qualified team will produce high caliber results.

Finding a Balance Between Business Insights and Customer Requests

Leveraging scientific methods, professional principles, and reliable communication will make it possible to not only make your customers feel like they are “always right,” but also maintain the right processes to ensure the success of your project.

As you gain experience with these two opposing needs, the insight you gain will shape the future of your business models.