You know how the adage goes: the customer’s always right. Is the customer always right? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to what your customers have to say. Remember that perception is far more important than right versus wrong, at least when it comes to how customers perceive your business. A positive perception equals a thriving business; a negative perception, not so much. When you listen to your customers, you can glean powerful information that helps you control the perception of your business and position it for success. With that in mind, here are seven customer quips you should listen to.

  1. “I don’t understand this policy/fee”

I once purchased a new phone from my local cell phone dealer, and the phone died within my first two months of ownership. I took it in to the store for a return, and the store refused to offer an exchange; instead, they said I had to send it in to the company they represented. By doing so, however, I would receive a refurbished phone rather than a new phone or getting my own phone repaired.

I was frustrated because I felt I had purchased the phone from this business, not their parent company, and it was up to them to make it right. I didn’t want a refurbished phone (who knows where it had been?); I just wanted my phone or a new replacement. I asked for the manager, who stated that was the store’s policy. I asked him to explain that policy to me; he said “that’s just the way it is.”

Ultimately, I left the store, phone-in-hand, and contacted the manufacturer directly for a new replacement, which I received. The point, however, is that the store I directly did business with didn’t care to explain their policy to me; rather, they acted like a tired parent: “because I said so.” That’s no way to treat a customer.

Some policies can’t be avoided, and can cause unavoidable customer anguish. It’s unfortunate but undeniable. However, if a customer doesn’t understand a policy or fee, it’s incumbent upon you to help them understand the reason for your policy or fee. It’s not fair or ethical to expect customers to comply with a policy or pay a fee “because you said so.”

In addition, you should educate your employees about any policies and fees often questioned by customers. Employees should help customers understand the reason for them and – if needed – even commiserate with them to a degree. If a policy is the result of your arrangement with another firm, picking up the phone to make the customer’s case for them isn’t going out of your way to help, it’s good customer service.

  1. “It was good”

Not to brag, but most of my customers gush about the work I perform for them. If you run a successful business, you probably experience a similar volume of customer compliments. They make you feel good about what you do and valued for your efforts. However, what customers say and how they it can be telling in that they can reveal their true feelings.

When asked how they liked the work I recently performed for them, one of my customers remarked that “it was good.” No elaboration, just “it was good.” Granted, some customers aren’t big on elaboration, but I knew this customer and I knew “good” was not a descriptor he commonly used. If he liked something, it was “great” or “outstanding.” I knew something was wrong, but he didn’t want to tell me (perhaps he didn’t want to hurt my feelings, but criticism is part of the job and, as my customer, he has every right to criticize the work he’s paying for).

After some prodding, I got him to admit he was looking for a different style; now, I didn’t necessarily agree with the direction he was after and it’s fair to say that he offered little direction to begin with, but I wanted him to be thrilled with my work so I made appropriate edits to match his expectations. Now, he was thrilled, and has since rehired me for additional work.

The point is, what customers say and what they mean don’t always jive. A customer who describes your work as “good” when they should say “great” isn’t completely satisfied, and it’s up to you to read between the lines and find out what you can do to make it great.

  1. “It took me awhile to figure out”

I own a small web design company, and one of our clients was seeking a robust photo album system they could run through WordPress. They wanted a ton of features, which we added to the developed plugin, and we tried to make adding photos as user-friendly as possible. Once complete, we went through the site with them and showed them how to upload images, apply tags, meta data, and a whole host of other settings they had requested, all from a single page. They were thrilled with the result, and we left them with instructions in case they got stuck.

A few months later, I asked them how the system was working. The person responsible for uploading images said it took them awhile to figure out, but they think they have it now. I didn’t like that response, because it make it seem as though the system wasn’t user-friendly at all. So I requested a sit-down to go through the site again.

As it turned out, the client didn’t use half the features they requested; essentially, they had looked up different options they could have and added them to their wish list, not truly understanding what they did. At the end of the day, all they really wanted was a basic photo album with descriptions and tags. Thus, we hid the options they didn’t want, and the person uploading the images was much happier; she remarked how much easier her job was with the updated system.

The point is that if customers have a hard time figuring out how to use your product, you need to take the time to educate them and/or make the product easier to use. Of course, in this case I should have asked more questions from the beginning but they seemed to know exactly what they wanted and I didn’t want to seem rude by questioning their intent or knowledge. Ultimately, we were able to give the customer exactly what they wanted, but we took the scenic route to getting there – not the most efficient route.

  1. “What’s taking so long?”

If you’ve been in business long enough, you’ve undoubtedly heard this question phrased one way or another. Basically, your customer feels you should have finished your job by now and they don’t understand why they’re still waiting. This is a direct result of a lack of communication on your part.

Don’t let it get to this point. Be proactive and let customers know where you’re at in the process and, if there are delays, let them know why there is a delay and when they can expect the project to be completed. A logical explanation and a promised deadline you can meet will make most customers feel far better about your company.

  1. “Competitor X does the exact same thing cheaper”

This one can be tough to stomach: when customers compare your services to an inferior competitor, it’s up to you to set the record straight – or change your pricing, if the statement is true. Chances are, however, you offer something your competitor does not and when this comment is made you have failed to effectively communicate that advantage to your customers, so their perception is that you and your competitor are equals – but you charge more.

It can be easy to get into a marketing run after you’ve been successful in business for some time; when you’re first starting out, you have to claw your way into the marketplace and it’s easy to be cognizant of the advantages you have over your competitors. However, as time goes on, you can be less concerned with differentiating your company and more concerned with managing a large portfolio of customers.

If your customers’ perception is wrong, you have to educate them. Launch a comprehensive marketing campaign that showcases your strengths and how they make you different and better than your competitors.

  1. “That employee was so rude”

This is a comment you should always investigate so you can determine whether the employee in question was indeed rude or whether they were reacting appropriately to an impossible customer request. Once you find out, you can talk to your employee (or, if they were rude, terminate their employment) and then seek to make things right with your customer – even if the exchange was largely their fault.

No employee should ever lose their cool with a customer, no matter how ridiculous that customer is behaving; however, a customer might feel slighted even if the employee wasn’t intentionally rude. In either case, you should reach out to your customer, apologize on behalf of your company, then offer to make things right.

If this is a common occurrence, it’s time to evaluate why your employee was perceived as rude and what circumstances created the situation. You might find a common denominator that requires a policy change to eliminate the problem in the future.

  1. “Great job!”

Not all customer quips are negative – in fact, if you’re successful, most are probably positive. When a customer says you did a great job and is enthusiastic about doing business with you, it feels outstanding. At the same time, don’t just pat yourself on the back: strive to be even better, and do not rest on your laurels. Analyze what went right and how you were able to deliver in a way that made your customer thrilled to do business with you.

By defining what you did well, you can continue to satisfy customers by following the same model. You can also identify strengths to market your business on, and even identify potential weaknesses that need resolved.

Always pay attention to what your customers have to say, and consider how it impacts their perception of your company. Address problem areas and analyze your strengths to continue to improve your company and provide the best customer service possible. By doing so, you can all but guarantee long-term success.