Consulting: Is The Customer Always Right?

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I run a small business. I handle customer service and I’m also a customer to other businesses. Often, the phrase “The customer is always right” is mentioned in passing or sort of in jest when someone talks of a customer/business disagreement. There is actually a history to this phrase that dates back to the early 20th century. But I wanted to talk about whether, as a consultant and a business owner, is it really true that the customer is always right?

The simple answer is no. The customer is not always right. We know this simply because the customer is a human being and fallible. But, as you may imagine, this is a more involved concept. What must be looked at when serving customers may not be a right or wrong, but more about the specific situations we encounter?

This one is huge. People tend to see things the way they want, and that perception will generally be true to them. The trick is to change the perception, not the thing that triggers it. So, I ten to go after the user’s idea f what slow is, and not after a general “speed up the computer” technical fix.

Earning respect for your efforts is often a hard fought battle. People will not entrust you to solve disputes if you haven’t been able to earn the kind of respect that lets them open up to you. The best way for this is through shared experiences. Share a difficult process with them and make sure they see you there with them all the way to a solution, and most will indeed respond to that with respect.

Clouding Factors
Conflict alone includes many things that will distract from the actual problem. If in conflict with a customer, the problem may be a slow computer l, but the tension will most certainly bring other issues to the surface (like your response time, cost of services, and other things). It is pretty important to stick to the issue as closely as possible and always attempt to clarify at every turn. You may not be right, but you have stood by a position that will likely earn you respect for it.

What do you do in the face of a situation that seems wrong (but you feel like your right)? I have thought of some simple goals I’ve always aspired too. While these rules are often circumvented by life’s necessities and you don’t always have the choice, you’ll want to work towards them the best you can:

1. Don’t work for people you don’t like. You can’t like everyone, and your happiness is always going to be tied to the quality of relationships you have. You don’t have to love your customer, but if there are any major personality conflicts, it’s best to walk away.

2. Never work for anyone below the boss. In consulting, you’ll always be involved in controllers, managers, etc. If a customer comes up and you’re in talks to do work – make sure you are given a direct line to ownership or the highest in the food chain possible. If your main, and only, contact is a middle manager, expect your efforts will often be claimed by them. Never get involved with companies in these scenarios.

3. Always charge more than what you’re worth. You’ll always find it difficult to do that, but if you look at your consulting rates right now, guaranteed you aren’t charging enough.

4. Always be clear. Clarity is often elusive, especially in disagreements. Sometimes the best you can do is manage or lower expectations. If you’ve succeeded in being clear about your side of the picture – in failure, you may gain the kind of respect that will earn you new business.

5. Communicate. Often. In business (and in life) we need to communicate more than we already are. make sure the customer knows what’s happening, make sure the customer is aware of costs and timeline and make sure that you are doing it all in a timely manner. The nice thing about this too, is that you’ll get better at it as you do more. Don’t be afraid to ask the customer to help or confirm information.