Customers are Right
Customers are Right

The customers are always right

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‘’The customer is always right.” This sentence draws such a visceral and polarizing reaction from just about everyone who hears it. For some, it is seen as a maxim for good business and positive customer relationships. For others, it is despised as a trump card ready to be played by customers acting in bad faith or ignorance.

The problem? An individual customer is not factually always right, and unfortunately, some customers are dishonest.

Even though the customer is not always right, I urge you to not discard the phrase so quickly. This idea still has value – we just have to change what we are thinking about when we say “customer.” The saying is always true when we start thinking of the individual as the typical customer and stop picturing them as one specific person.

Another way to think about it is rephrasing it slightly: “The customers are always right.”

Why is that true? We all make decisions every day and our decisions result in utility (the good stuff) or disutility (the bad stuff). We generally make decisions based on our perception of what we believe will get us the most utility (or least disutility). Those perceptions are as unique as we are and molded by our life experiences, education, and other factors. So, it is imperative to understand that the aggregate of those perceptions is going to be the driving force in your clients’ (or customers’) decision-making process.

For example, if clients feel that the most important factor in working with a tax or accounting firm is being able to rely on them for expert advice throughout the year, then that is the most important factor. If you think they are wrong, then you do so at your own peril because they are the one making the decisions. And, guess what? The customer is right – they are always right.

This concept is a fairly straightforward principle, but what is harder to understand is the current state of your clients. What exactly are they saying their preferences are? How do you know what is really most important to them? It is best to make your decisions using data. Take your assumptions and gut feelings, and put them to the test.

Do you think your clients would reject changes to your workflow or how you deliver services to them? Rather than just assuming they will, in order to better understand the effect it will have on your clients, consult your peers and other businesses that have implemented change. Another effective strategy is to implement the change to a group of clients and collect their feedback. Not only will this be an excellent way to gauge a change’s effectiveness, but you can also find areas that need extra attention before you implement changes across the firm.

A favorite story comes from a firm that moved to Intuit® Link a few years ago. They assumed that their less tech-savvy clients would abandon ship, so they decided to only offer Link to their younger clients who may have been more familiar with technology. However, the plan backfired when the father of one of the younger clients in the test group complained to the firm about not being given access to Link. The lesson: If you want to collect the most valuable feedback, always make sure the test group is representative of your client demographics.

Another trap this firm fell into was assuming that something that had been true in the past – their older clients’ aversion to a new process – was still true today. This is the final consideration when exploring the validity to the idea that “the customer is always right.” Customers can change their preferences, and as a result, can change what they are “right” about. Unless you continually make an effort to understand your clients’ needs and preferences, you risk being wrong about what they are right about. The easiest way to avoid this pitfall is to continually explore new tools, utilities, and workflows. Rather than dismissing trends, evaluate them carefully and weigh them against the utility. What can they bring not only to your firm, but to your clients’ businesses as well?

The bottom line is that a customer being right is not the customer saying “1+1=3” and us saying “That is correct.” It is about the customers saying, “This is our preference” and us recognizing that. While we might not understand it, yet, they are still right that it is their preference. The customer is always right.

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