The Customer’s Always Right?

Businessman question marks

Doing my earliest public-facing job, I helped serve diners in a restaurant. During this time, I first heard “The customer is always right,” proclaimed by my manager. The expression stuck in my head and I wondered if that could really be true. Then, something happened to answer the question. A waitress came back to the cook and huffed, “They’re sending this plate of food back, said it has too much pepper in it.”

“There is no pepper in any of my recipes for anything on that plate…and I made it myself, there is absolutely NO pepper on that dish,” the trusty cook replied. So, I learned an early lesson in business: the customer is not actually always right. So, I wondered, why did the manager tell me this falsehood?  After a while, I caught on – watching the wait persons routinely humor patrons on untruths – that it’s just to make customers feel good. But they are not technically always right. My manager just wanted repeat business at the cost of letting people believe what was patently wrong.

Years later, as a marketing consultant, I’ve encountered similar situations with professionals I serve.  Fortunately, most of them hire our agency because they want someone to advise them, to provide independent input to get a better outcome. After all, we always say that if we make them successful, then we’re successful. With this dynamic, we are in a win-win and our clients want to listen to us, take our unfettered advice, and get better marketing materials, unbiased customer input, and more effective strategies.

But sometimes clients don’t take our advice which perplexes me. It makes no sense for someone to hire a firm to do a job they or their team won’t do – for whatever reason – and then hinder getting the best possible outcome from that expenditure. To work it out, I think back to my youth and that restaurant patron: they may have had their dinner companion break up with them and fabricated something about their food to avoid paying for it. Similarly, I’ve learned that professionals can actually have reasons for steering things down the wrong path. One example of many is they are subconsciously (or knowingly) wanting out of their job so they intentionally botch the outcome. Regardless, it’s still painful when clients won’t take helpful advice. During these times, I reflect back on that maxim about how we’re after mutual success and need to remember that sometimes success is not what they want.

We’d like to hear what you think about people who work against their own best interests, please share with us.

– Mark Salow, Consultant