The Customer is Always Right...Right?

The oldest rule in marketing and business is...

"The customer is always right”

…But is this really true? I think I just heard a unanimous “NO WAY!”

I recently put this ideology to the test when conducting a round table discussion at a conference. As you might expect, some interesting thoughts came through from participants.

Here are the top 4 reasons from the group that challenged the “customer’s always right” claim:

1) Let’s face it, some customers are just plain wrong. Whether about the actual functionality of your products, the way the customer is or is not understanding the general concept of your products, or whatever the case may be, there are undeniably moments when customers are just flat out wrong.

2) Some customers are bad for a business. Those who have a negative attitude just for the sake of taking their frustrations out on your company likely do not want a response or resolution, and therefore will only have a negative effect on business and your other customers. Attention given to these customers should be minimized and dealt with out of the public eye, because there is often times not much hope to turn it into an informative or positive interaction.

3) It demotivates employees. It’s no secret that negativity is contagious, or that being told you are doing a bad job is not the most motivating thing for an employee. It’s the same effect whether it’s coming from a superior or a customer. Hearing from your client base that your product is not working for them, or they are unhappy with the service they get, can make employees complacent if not delivered in a constructive way. And typically, the most negative customers have no problem voicing exactly how they feel, unfiltered, which can come off pretty harsh to employees.

4) The customer is not an expert in your products. Customers who share their opinions with not only your company, but the rest of the world via review sites, social media, forums, or other public channels can mislead prospects or other customers, having a harmful impact on your business. Make sure you take the proper precautions to set the record straight publicly, so no misconceptions are formed about your products.

If the customer continues, try taking the conversation “offline,” to avoid falling into a battle you have no chance of winning (e.g. if the customer cannot be convinced they are mistaken about their opinion of you.) How you deal with negativity on public channels can say a lot to customers following along, so make sure you keep your responses quick, concise, accurate, and confident.

Here are my recommendations for best ways to work through issues with these customers who are not necessarily always right:

1) To have a clearly defined customer service policy documented for your employees. Being prepared with a process for how to deal with customers who are misinformed is one of the best things you can do to combat possible issues that may arise from false claims. You may not be able to anticipate what false information will be shared, which means you can have a standard way of handling these occurrences. This also ensures consistency, which is key for building credibility.

“Being prepared with a process for how to deal with customers who are misinformed is one of the best things you can do to combat possible issues that may arise from false claims.” – Click to Tweet

2) Often times, the unhappy customer will turn happy if we just acknowledge their feelings about the situation at hand. As mentioned above, often times an unhappy customer voicing their not-so-positive (or factual) views are just a little frustrated in general. They may just be seeking some acknowledgement from your company, or if they’re not initially looking for acknowledgement their mood may shift once you respond to them if done correctly.

Show empathy, never talk down to your customers (saying “no Mr. Smith, you couldn’t be more wrong about our products” likely won’t go over well to them or others for that matter,) and try to offer a logical, simple explanation to their problem, and offer to explain in more detail in a more private channel (e.g. phone, email, or even video conference.) Showing you value the customer enough to take time out of your day to address their concerns can go a long way, and often times results in a much happier customer than they ever were before.

“Often times, the unhappy customer will turn happy if we just acknowledge their feelings about the situation at hand.” – Click to Tweet

3) Meet with your cross-functional teams regularly. Most organizations have a big disconnect or lack of communication between their marketing and sales teams especially, but being interconnected as a company has endless benefits, especially when it comes to how you respond to customers. Staying in sync across departments on how you are speaking to customers about their concerns, answering questions, and educating will enable you to all speak with the same voice. This unity and consistency gives customers more confidence in your organization as a whole.

When bringing teams together, solicit ideas from employees. They are, after all, the ones who are dealing with customers most often. Here are some things you can ask some of your departments, according to their respective expertise:

  • Ask Marketing what current marketing trends look like, what consumers are largely responding to, how best to reach them, and anything else that may be relevant to how you are communicating with your customer base.

  • Ask Sales with boots on the ground what they are seeing and hearing from customers and prospects on the road or over the phone. What are their most common hang ups? What rumors about your products are floating around that Marketing and Customer Service can proactively refute?

  • Ask Customer Service what customers are having the most problems with. On which topics can Marketing and Sales better educate customers? How can the Product team address recurring issues when making updates?

“Meet with your cross-functional teams regularly.” – Click to Tweet

Make sure you are taking the necessary steps to keep your customers happy and informed…even when they aren’t necessarily right.

How do you deal with "Customer is always right" situations in your business?


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