Customer Service: The Customer is Always Right; Except When He IsntWe’ve all heard the slogans:

The Customer is King

The Customer is Always Right

We’ve heard the stories about superior customer service — such as the passenger who tweeted his dissatisfaction and had the airline fix the problem while still in the air — and the horror stories of bad customer service.  With the rise of social networks, customer service is more important than ever and response times have shrunk to minutes not days.

Enlightened firms strive for superior customer service; incorporating customer service as a key element in their marketing strategy.

So, what I’m about to say may seem like I’m a heretic:

Sometimes the customer ISN’T right!

Now, before you call a priest to perform an exorcism, since I’m obviously possessed by some demon, hear me out.

Sometimes, customers don’t know what’s best for them so, if you just give them what they want, you’re actually doing them a disservice and may be causing damage.

For instance, look at a physician.  Doctors go to school for many years, then practice in a field where expertise is often a function of experience.  And while I decry the paternalistic model where physicians simply TELL you want to do, I do believe doctors have to ultimately do what is best for the patient, which may not be what the patient wants.  The doctor just has more extensive information than the patient.  So, while it’s fashionable to “Dr. shop” until the patient finds a physician willing to DO something, it isn’t always right.

Take the case of Heidi Montag, who had 10 cosmetic procedures in a single surgery or “Octomom” who had 8 babies implanted in her uterus, or even Michael Jackson, who had his private physician inject strong sedatives so he could get some sleep.

Did the doctors in these cases provide excellent customer service? Absolutely.

Did the doctors do the RIGHT thing? Most would say “NO” and a jury is even sending the physician in the Michael Jackson case to jail for his excellent customer service that resulted in the death of the music legend.

The same can be said in education and over-reliance on student evaluations has nearly destroyed higher education.  Students see themselves as “customers” and the faculty as “employees” demanding they be taught what THEY think is necessary in a way THEY think is suitable.  Faculty, who fear loosing their jobs or being denied tenure, suck up to students by watering down their course content, replacing rigorous content with fluff, and eliminating difficult assignments.  Stories of faculty trading grades for good evaluations are rampant, as are stories of faculty “buying” good evaluations with pizza, t-shirts, and other rewards.  Some faculty give all students “A’s” believing, just like in Little League where everyone gets a trophy, students fragile egos will suffer if graded more harshly.  I’ve even heard faculty argue against punishment for plagiarism and other violations of academic integrity, arguing the students simply didn’t know it was wrong.

Customer Service Means Doing What the Customer Wants

At Hausman and Associates, we strive for superior customer service in everything we do, but that doesn’t mean we always do what the client wants.

Ultimately, the client wants to achieve certain outcomes, such as increased revenue, improved reputation, or greater awareness of the brand.  If they knew how to achieve these goals, they wouldn’t need to hire us.  So, when they do hire us, we have to do what we think most likely to help them reach their goals.  Ultimately, this is the yardstick against which we are measured.

And, the stark reality is that most businesses just don’t know how to DO social media marketing (and you can read my tirade on this topic in an earlier post).  In fact, most businesses damage their brands when they execute social media marketing strategies.  So, why would I listen to you when you want me to do things I know won’t help and might hurt your brand?

In my early days as a consultant, I would have listened to you even when I didn’t think your strategy was best.  But, over the years, that’s come back to bite me.  Early on, we almost lost a major Fortune 50 company when we listened to them because the results were crap.  The only thing saving the account is I had originally implemented a strategy I thought best only to have the client demand we do things their way.

The moral of the story is: “The customer is always right; except when he isn’t”

What are your thoughts on this?  Share your comments below.