Why The Customer Is Not Always Right And It’s Okay To Say So

By March 6, 2013February 1st, 2018True Stories
Why The Customer Is Not Always Right And It’s Okay To Say So

In my former life as a Creative Director in radio, we had a new client who sold blinds to homeowners. It was one of those “we bring the store to you” deals. You schedule an appointment, and this company would bring a van full of samples to your home so you didn’t have to go to the store.

This client insisted on writing his own commercial. Lovely. Instead of sending me the script, he insisted on reading it to me on the phone – you know, so I could get the full effect. Even better.

The script started something like this:

“For more than 20 years, it’s the name you’ve known for quality blinds…”

I politely stopped him and said the following:

  • The number of years that you’ve been in business is only relevant if you can prove how those years of experience make your company more desirable than your competition.
  • There’s a good chance that most of our listening audience has never heard of your company, making the first line of your commercial untrue. It’s better to assume that nobody has heard of you.
  • The first line of your commercial is a headline for the rest of the commercial. If you want to keep the listener’s attention, you should focus on how your product can solve a problem or fill a need for the listener instead of talking about your company.

That covered the first five seconds of the 60-second commercial. I let him read the rest of the script before I offered any more feedback. It was a long conversation.

About 20 minutes after that conversation ended, this client called me and said:

You know, you really took the wind out of my sails. I spent all day writing that commercial and you found a million things wrong with it. I just want to make sure you’re on board with this and you’re committed to making this work.

My response:

When I tell you why I think your approach is ineffective and offer recommendations for a new direction, that’s me being on board and trying to make this work. The easiest thing for me to do would be to rubber stamp whatever you wrote, tell you it’s great, and move on to the next client, but my job is to help you make money. I’d rather risk hurting your feelings in the short-term and earn your respect in the long-term by helping you make money.

He said he respected me for that and let me rewrite his commercial.

During the first week of the campaign, he closed a sale for more than $10,000 – for blinds. Instead of attributing that monster sale to a good commercial, a smart advertising schedule or the quality of the radio station’s audience, he claimed it was a fluke and soon canceled his advertising. He went to the roulette wheel, hit his number and cashed out. But I digress.

“The Customer Is Always Right” – Is Wrong

Maybe a better mantra would be, “The customer should always be treated respectfully.” That’s absolutely true. But let’s be honest. The customer definitely is not always right.

One of my biggest frustrations is when people “yes” the customer to death. Sure, whatever you say, as long as you pay me. That approach helps nobody. When it doesn’t work, the client loses money and you lose the client.

Sometimes the customer needs an education. And there’s nothing wrong with educating the customer. Actually, that’s a good thing.

More often than not, the customer needs an expert to tactfully explain why the customer is wrong – or on the wrong path – and a different approach is better. That’s why you hire an expert.

Wouldn’t you be horrified if you went to see a doctor about chest pain, and the doctor said, “So what do you think is causing that pain? How would you like me to make the pain go away?”

My wife and I moved into a 70-year-old house about four years ago and my education about home improvements began instantly. I had all kinds of ideas about how to improve and fix certain things, but if we used my ideas, the house probably would have crumbled to the ground.

In my case, I needed home improvement professionals to set me straight. Usually, that kind of professional was frustratingly hard to find.

The way I look at it, my clients don’t come to me to tell them how wonderful they are. That’s what mothers are for.

My clients come to me because they don’t have the expertise, the ability, the time or the desire to write content or develop a marketing program themselves. In most cases, they at least vaguely recognize the value of what I bring to the table before they contact me.

My advice to any business owner or service provider, especially in marketing, is to treat your clients with respect but have the guts and tact to tell them when they’re wrong. Always. Just be prepared to back it up with sound reasoning and offer a recommendation for a better solution.

Anyone can point out a problem, but a true professional is in the business of solving problems. If you can solve problems for your clients, their feelings won’t be hurt when you disagree with their approach. If they do get bent out of shape, they can always call mommy.

Have you ever convinced a client to go in a different direction and had the client benefit from taking your advice?