Why the customer is king, but not always right

The phrase ‘the customer is always right’ has been used for such a long time, and I think it’s an absolutely ridiculous statement. The customer is really important, but that doesn’t make them right. This doesn’t mean that customers are always wrong either, it just means businesses need to be smarter about how they deal with customer service issues and the impact that marketing and sales have on customers perceptions.

In a few of my previous articles I have talked about how the people that complain about your business can actually be turned into your greatest supporters. This article follows from those and is dedicated to why those people complain, and how you to can convert those people from haters to believers. By believers I mean people who truly understand and buy into what the company is trying to do, and the way in which they carry out their business.

Why is the customer king?

From the off, some of you may disagree entirely with me and think that other aspects of business are king. That’s why I wrote this little section. I wanted to outline exactly why I think that the customer is king, and why they are so important.

One of the biggest ‘buzz words’ around at the moment is content marketing. Which I think is great, but i’m not convinced that it’s the be all and end all. I’ve read so many articles and books which look at how important content creation is, and how it is both the driver of traffic and the converter of leads. When it comes down to it though it has to be the customer who is driving this creation. For if the business isn’t writing the content for a customer, or with a specific persona in mind what is the point? You can keep writing all this ‘quality content’ but if it’s not helping a customer, answering a question or solving a problem then what is the point?

In my opinion businesses fail for a single reason. They don’t have enough customers. I’d much rather have 20 customers that each spends £20 a week than have 4 customers spending £100 each. Because risk is spread. If anything happens to any one of the customers the impact is much lower than if one of the £100 customers left. I’m not saying you don’t want the £100 customers, as the more of those you have the more you can earn, but the risk is much greater.

This demonstrates the power of customers and why they are king. No matter what you do as a business, you are at the mercy of your customers for good or for bad.

Why isn’t the customer always right?

Conventional wisdom always told businesses that in order to keep the customer happy you must always bend over backwards for them. That definitely still has a place in todays world. If you are in a restaurant like TGI Fridays and they bring out chips (fries) that are cold, you would expect them to go and get you a new set. Why? Because its the expectation you have from a restaurant that charges you stupid money for a burger. When you pay more money for a good, service or experience you demand a higher quality of customer care.

But, not all customers are reasonable. If your burger is under-cooked that is a reasonable complaint. If though, someone were complaining about the style of music or the birthday song performed by staff, then that isn’t reasonable. The brand proposition laid out by a place like TGI Friday’s is that it’s very American themed with modern American Music. This is a perfect example of where a customer isn’t right and how not everyone is a potential customer. Every single person will buy into the TGI Friday’s experience, and these are people you do not have to spend your time on.

It’s not uncommon to see a disparity between customer expectations and reality. If a customer has expectations over and above the companies offering, are they (the customer) still right? If you went into a £1 shop and brought a spade that broke after one use, would you complain to the shop about it? Suppose for a second that someone did complain about it. Do you think they are right to? My opinion is no. In the company I work for we will replace low priced items because pride ourselves on customer service. But, this is not expected. If a customer then complains online about a £1 item they purchased which wasn’t replaced do you really think it’s going to create a backlash? As a company you may want to send them a replacement in ‘good faith’ but it’s not necessary.

A customer may also not be right because they may have not been challenged. I believe everyone can have and is entitled to an opinion, but not every opinion is necessarily valid. Because if no one has challenged that opinion, or the person with the opinion has no evidence to back it up then how can it be accurate? If a customer approaches a business with a firm opinion on a matter it may not always be correct. They may believe one thing and your business may believe another. By challenging each other you help validate or disprove each theory. The customer could still be right, which is fantastic because there is now agreement. If you don’t challenge customers, businesses or theories, then they may not be correct. This is known as the ‘Challenger Mentality’.

How to turn the haters into believers

Manage Expectations. We’ve already looked at what problems can occur when expectations of customers are different to the message and impression the business wants to portray. This is a hard issue to solve but there are steps which can be taken to narrow this gap. Firstly don’t emphasise and promote things you know you can’t consistently deliver upon. If you give the impression that you stand for a certain thing, then completely go against it or can’t live up to it, you are asking for complaints. Managing those expectations means that as a business you are in a much better place to satisfy customers.

Appropriate responses. By this I mean act proportionally to the problem faced. If the product or service is of higher value it will require much more attention and it will need more action to resolve. We looked earlier in the article at potential reactions to a low ticket product. So, here we will quickly look at the difference in reaction for a higher ticket item. The first response is that you will solve the problem asap. You will send them a replacement as quickly as possible. You may also offer them a token of apology. This is appropriate, because it is a proportional response to the value of the good/service provided.

Honesty and Transparency. If a customer complains because you genuinely messed up. Apologise and empathise. People appreciate that everyone makes mistakes, it is the way you deal with the problems that sets you apart from your competitors.

By managing expectations, providing appropriate responses and by being honest you will be going a long way to stop those ‘haters’. Remember that the customer isn’t always right, but they are so important and without them a business is doomed to fail.