The customer is not always right

Customer_Relationship_Management
One great colloquialism has ruled business as long as there has been commerce: the customer is always right. While being exhaustively customer-facing can be lucrative, there is a real possibility for burnout and creating distance from your core values. The long-term success of a business depends on emotional and financial currency, though not always in equal measure.

So why has this catchphrase stood the test of time? Fear.

Fear of lost opportunities, fear of lost sales, and fear of failure have driven a business culture afraid to do something novel: question the wishes of the customer. I can imagine a collective gasp at such a notion, but let me take a step back and explain what I mean. I will start with a simple question: why does your customer purchase from you?

Are they looking for sales or administrative support? How about a trusted thought partner? Are they looking to generate more productivity, or perhaps replicate the practices of top performers in their industry? Are you providing an invaluable service? Regardless of the specific reason, I would venture to say they have to come to you because you differentiated yourself in your space and have become an expert, even if only by degrees.

It is in this expertise that your social currency has grown to create traffic, allowed you to source leads, and helped you close new business. Your customers have come to you because you have provided a solution to a problem, often a solution or a problem they didn’t realize they needed or had (respectively) until your reach overlapped with their search. So if they are looking for the best possible service, why would you settle for only reaching the very low benchmark of what they want?

I want to stress that I am not advocating for ignoring customer needs; instead, I am saying go beyond the bare minimum and find out what they really want. Ask questions, actively listen, and empathize with their position in order to create a smoother process to offer the greatest possible customer experience (or product).

It leads you away from taking ownership. Always assuming the customer is right sets up a situation where ownership of the core values of your process, service, or product has becomes about a customer’s emotional state during the sale. For you to continue to provide a high level of service, you need to understand what took you there in the first place: ownership of your process, product, or service. If a customer thinks the best way to do something is in direct contrast to your best practices (that have continuously yielded results), then own that and sell them on the value of your approach; after all, they need help and you are there to provide it (not the other way around).

Always assume innocence. Try not to see something nefarious where there is nothing; remember that hoof-beats mean horses, not zebras. If a customer wants to do things a certain way, it doesn’t mean that they are doing so to be purposefully belligerent. They might not understand why you have a process in place. Being empathetic to their position and assuming ignorance in lieu of belligerence will keep you from feeling marginalized or resentful of a customer request. You can learn a lot from listening to an angry or dissatisfied customer with an open mind.

Look for teaching opportunities. Realizing that the customer might not always be right opens up opportunities to teach your process or the value of your product. The reason why people dislike salespeople who pressure them is because they feel like they are being sold to; there is no real connection to speak of. Seeing the sales process as educating a lead or potential client on the value of what you provide not only makes them feel like the sale is a discussion, but helps you to better understand what you are doing. Really understanding yourself and your process pays dividends: it makes you both a better person and a better businessperson.

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