DIY

Rule number one: The customer is always right. Rule number two...

We've probably all seen it at one time or another. Rule number one: The customer is always right. Rule number two: When the customer is wrong, refer to rule number one. Do you agree or disagree?

We've probably all seen it at one time or another. Rule number one: The customer is always right. Rule number two: When the customer is wrong, refer to rule number one. Do you agree or disagree?

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Okay, that old adage might have had more merit fifty or more years ago, but I disagree with it in today's business climate, and especially for user support professionals.

Whether we support people as consultants or employees and whether they be home or business users, as user support professionals, our users are our customers, at least that's how I try to see it. The adage might be a good reminder as to how to approach them when our customers are wrong, but I actually think it's best to disagree with them when it's appropriate.

I recall the time when a major computer upgrade was needed, and someone in upper management was determined to decide what to buy. Because he had been happy with a recent personal purchase -- a Gateway computer from Best Buy -- he insisted that I at least consider the same unit for the upcoming business purchase. As time went on, he was close to insisting that I agree to that particular unit. I did actually consider it, in as much as reviewing the specifications, the components, the cost, and so on, but I quickly came to the conclusion that is simply wasn't adequate. (Not only that, but both Gateway and Best Buy do absolutely nothing for me.)

A short time before this, I had written a blog piece titled "Build a Computer for a Vista 5.9 Performance Rating," so not only had I done extensive research on the issue, but I actually put the build to a test. I received a lot of feedback from that piece, as well as several e-mails from people who actually built their computer with my listed specifications who were quite happy with its performance. (By the way, the Vista Performance Rating of the Gateway computer in question scored only a 4.something.)

I knew that the computer I wanted to specify was not only better than the Gateway model, but it would be a better computer for the application demands, both present and future. But here I was faced with a customer who was dead wrong in his insistence that his preference would be the better choice.

I didn't want to come right out and suggest he was wrong, especially in a confrontational kind of way, but I did want to convince him otherwise. Instead of simply pitting him against me -- he's wrong and I'm right, so to speak -- I focused on the desired end result (start with the end in mind). I focused on the requirements and demands of the applications and all the users, and what kind of computer would best meet their needs for the longest time. I focused on the dozen or so users who would require dependable machines -- and support if there happened to be a problem. The question ended up being not which computer was better, but which one would best suit the needs, both present and long term.

Under those circumstances, and all things considered, it was probably the hardest time I've ever had dealing with rule number two. But I was able to convince him, and we ended up with my computer build, not the Gateways. (As a side note, his personal Gateway shot craps a short time after.)

So, personally, I don't like that old adage. I would modify it to read something like this: Rule number one: The customer is always right. Rule number two: When the customer is wrong, we owe it to them to explain why they're wrong, and then offer them a better solution.

What do you think about rule number one and two? And feel free to share your experiences.

31 comments
kaixabu
kaixabu

How about... Rule Number One: The Customer is always right! Rule Number Two: The Customer is still right, but hopefully sees the light when we tell him we can do it the way he wants, but it will cost X thousand\million dollars in early replacment costs, support costs and loss of productivity.

Evisscerator
Evisscerator

No matter what else you might think, the "Customer" is NOT always right! Go ahead, be a MAN and say it. People who work in the Technology industries know that users are Cry Babies and techo-illiterates. Anyone that uses a CD Rom tray for a coffee cup holder is an absolute techno-useless person. When they can't figure out what's wrong and you point out that they haven't plugged the unit into the power socket, they are at a real disadvantage. Although it is our job to "please" the customer, it is also our job to point out the obvious with some tact and humble demeanor. We must EDUCATE the ILLITERATE, not chastise them for their ignorance and stupidity.

jsaubert
jsaubert

When I first got a job working in the retail jungle there was a sign with Rules 1 and 2 on it . Within a month's time I (a lowly clerk still) made a smaller sign that read: "3. We have the right to refuse you're business." It was a good natured jab and 99.9% of the people, including the customers and the owner, through it was funny. However I think there's a lot of truth in my third rule even when dealing with "inside customers". There are times that you have to turn a person away because they are being unreasonable. I try very hard to never let it get to that point; explaining options over and over again, avoiding negative words and being able to decipher what they absolutely have to have vs. what they'd like vs. pipe dreams. Sometimes the best "better solution" I can offer them is the door. Not in a mean way, sometimes you have to accept that you or you business is not suited to help them. Since I've been doing "inside tech work" that is not really a viable option. Yet I've found that servicing people from within is significantly better than dealing with the public. Inside at least internal people are more aware of limits and resources and generally gage their requests.

jeremial-21966916363912016372987921703527
jeremial-21966916363912016372987921703527

I've always used this adage: "The customer is not always right, but they ARE always the customer" I agree wholeheartedly that there are times when your customer is just plain wrong. However, we do a disservice to them if we just say "no". It should be the goal of every technology provider to take what the customer likes about a certain technology/product/service/application and, if it won't work for their environment, find something that will not only work but exceed all those expectations. No customer will complain if you show him an alternative that runs faster/performs better/saves money.

massonjj
massonjj

Rule#2: If the customer is wrong, they cease to be a customer, since that would violate rule #1. Meaning: If you cannot accomodate the customer, they will/need to go to someone else who can.

Ravensnest
Ravensnest

I run a small motel and let me tell you, none of them are right, Ever! Most are a bunch of whiney children. Is why I refer to this place as The Adult Romper Room!

philipgo
philipgo

The customer should always be KING! That is vastly different from being right. A agree that when appropriate the customer should be helped to understand when he is wrong, even to the extent of being prepared to lose the customer. If they see that you will not back down, one of two things will happen: 1 - they will take their business and leave. The next person will then either take their crap or also get rid of them. Either way you are rid of them, unless they later return, which is also bound to happen. 2 - they will accept that you are giving them the best information/assistance available to them. In this case, it could be to your advantage by building a more understanding relationship. We must remember that the person with a smattering of knowledge is a lot more "dangerous" than someone who knows nothing. They will base their dissatifaction of something they "read somewhere". Unless of course you are just giving bad service and should preferably give up before you give others a bad name.

AMAJAMUS
AMAJAMUS

Any body that still applies this rule...stay away from them!!! Ask anyone in the service industry (outside of most owners) and they will tell you differently. People will use this rule to thier advantage to get something for nothing. This rule has gotten the best employees fired only because a customer wanted something for free. Consider this situation; a trustworthy and top-notch server that always gets good-reviews from his customers and employers gets fired because a customer wanted something at a non-special price. The customer tells the owner that his service was awful and the server was rude to him. The server was fired, the customer recieved his meal for FREE, and there was more stress on the staff because now they were short-handed. I will never go into a restaurant that still practices this outdated motto. By the way ...I am not unemployed . I couldn't update my profile for some reason :0(

Jaqui
Jaqui

I just have to ask it. Since a customer is always right, but a CLIENT has you because they don't know the subject enough to always be right. In any operation that is service based or oriented, the people skills are vital to success. The mindset for the service is very much influenced by the terminology used, a customer vs a client vs a patron vs a guest ... I would actually rephrase the rules: Rule Number 1: The Client is usually right. Rule Number 2: When the Client is wrong, show them where their logic fails, in the least offensive manner possible.

Guitockey
Guitockey

I think that adage came from the retail world, and it is probably still applicable in that case. In service industries, such as IT, the customer is engaging the service because they don't know enough about it and want help, whether they acknowledge that or not. Technology salesmen may have to follow the original rules more than technicians, but even they may have to tell the customer, "No, we can't make your PBX press your suits." I agree with the amended rules.

ldh247
ldh247

I agree it makes perfect sense. I have found myself in the same situation many times, although sometimes the customer does not always know what they are looking to accomplish which makes it even harder.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

How would you handle a customer demanding that you get Internet Explorer 6 to run on a Apple //e?

swissGuy
swissGuy

fully agree with the adjusted rule. Especially from a senior (software engineer, project manager, or whatever other role) one could expect being advised to ensure that the customer get the best solution ...which is not necessarily the same as the one in customer's mind.

keith.mendoza
keith.mendoza

As a professional I agree with your modifed rule. "Professionals are called such because they are expected to know about their field more than those that are not in that field. I peronally believe that we as "professionals" owe it to those we are providing our skills to give them the best we can and guarantee that we leave them with the best service we can; even if that means showing them why their choice is not the best suited for their stated need

jemorris
jemorris

I work at a "Land Title" company. Our customer base is sometimes kind of cloudy as to who it really is. In each transaction you have a buyer, seller, realtor for each, sometimes a mortgage broker, and sometimes attornies for each party. Just under half the staff has any real regular contact with the parties involved and the rest of us are basically behind-the-scenes support. We regulary have mandatory training for the whole office on "proper" customer/client/guest interaction or service. We go over who "all" of our customers really are, from co-workers to vendors to the people actually buying the products/services we're selling. Basically it is a reminder of our attitude when dealing with others. Boiling it down to a quant old-time phrase "it is easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar" (and yes I know there is another version of this phrase too!). By the way the IT dept consists of me, myself and I. We are often asked to deal with outside vendors that have nothing to do with IT because of ability to work with unusually difficult people and get through problems in a civil manner. (then after hanging up the phone rant & rave to oneself for several minutes just to get it out of my system, that stuff builds up over time and you can get a really sour attitude)

Wizard-09
Wizard-09

You tell them this in't BK and they can't have it their way, This is I.T and they will have it my way lol.

eM DuBYaH
eM DuBYaH

Before or after I pick myself up off of the floor from laughing so hard!?!!?

barrycs
barrycs

What is meant by right? Is it infallaible? Not if you can even contemplate rule #2. ITIL has created a catalog of services because you don't want to get inane requests and have to deal with them. I've dealt with managerial inconsistency regarding the client/customer argument. A manager can tell you to say no to the client. But the manager can't say no. I've come up with creative workarounds and explanations for why things can't be done. But the best I've done is to say to a world wide partner, "I've got no problem delivering what you can get funded." It reminds them that there is no infinite budget for them to get their toys. If they can fund it, then they should be able to get it, regardless of how strange it may seem to the IT staff. Another issue is when the catalog of services isn't up-to-date with what's available or if it isn't built on common sense. For example, a travelling partner wants a international kit for AC adapters for a laptop. IT regional manager says we don't supply that, let them go to Radio Shack. Guy travels over 100 days per year to Europe and Asia. Where's the common sense? Maybe that should be the next blog- when did common sense become so uncommon?

KSoniat
KSoniat

At my company there are actually chronic complainers that are marked in the customer file to not give refunds etc. If you look at their history they are not really "customers" but "leeches". They buy something then repeatedly want replacements or refunds.

JKambiri
JKambiri

As in house support at a lawfirm, the rule of thumb for us is #1 the customer is always right, and if they want something outlandish see rule #2: we will do it if they want to pay for it. Most people are reasonable and if your answer is always yes, even if that yes if followed by an explanation of how much that would cost them in time and $$s, then they tend to be even more reasonable. Of course sometimes the answer is truly no, but still open ended, more of something like: "no, someone hasn't invented a software that can scan your retina and move the mouse pointer to what you are looking at on the screen...yet."

tech4me
tech4me

Rule No.1 - Disagree Rule No.2 - Completely disagree Trying to sell a car to a customer and providing user support are two completely different situations. ITIL tries to get us to treat users like customers, but it doesn't mean every silly customer service catch phrase is suddenly applicable in a User Support environment. When a customer says there home computer is faster then their work computer, and they want to get us to buy the same PC for work, we tell them NO! When a user says they need administrator access to their PC to 'do their work' we tell them NO! In all instances we try to find a compromise, explain our reasons, and listen to their ideas and questions, but at the end of the day, if they're wrong, they usually don't get it their way. I work in government, so really, to me the customer is the tax payer. When a manager or user comes to me and says they want to spend a hundred thousand dollars on a teleconference set up for an office of 12 people, I tell them NO! I tell them the Head Office is only 10 minutes drive away, and because they'd only use it once a month it would average several thousand dollars per use over several years. When they say they really want it and need it but cannot justify it to me, I tell them they're wrong, in as polite and explanatory fashion as possible. Customers are not always right... in fact they're usually wrong. Generally, they know what the WANT, but not what they need. We're the IT professionals. IT is OUR area of expertise, so unless you don't know what goes on with the business you're supporting, you should generally have a better understanding of what they need then the customers themselves do. In my 'customer' support environment I don't think this adage holds true at all. It's just a silly phrase anyway that tries to generalize every customer service situation. Sure, management just wants you to 'sell' whatever the customer wants, but in some businesses you want the customer to get what they need, not what they want. Give them what they want, and when they finally realize they were wrong they won't respect your business enough to come back. So maybe ITIL just needs to change 'customer' to 'patient'. Yes, definitely...

Jaqui
Jaqui

your example helps to prove the point. :) how we refer to those making use of our service changes how we think about them, and ourselves.

Jaqui
Jaqui

maybe not the apple IIe and IE6 issue. :D but it does get one thinking differently when you substitute different words for customer, which can help figure out how to handle a problem. It also helps for the service provider to have more confidence in themselves to use Client instead of Customer. That confidence makes it easier to get the unloved "you are wrong" message across, your confidence in your skills / knowledge shows and the Client is more willing to listen. edit to add: Hospitality and Tourism Industry don't use customer, they use Guest. It makes a huge difference in how the staff treat the "guests". By using Client for I.T. business, you emphasize, in your self opinion, the importance of your skills and knowledge to your Clients. The interpersonal skills are still important, the real difference is in your own confidence level when you dare interacting with your Client.

garyq
garyq

> Where's the common sense? Maybe that should >be the next blog- when did common sense >become so uncommon? The interwebs isn't big enough to host that blog!

williamjones
williamjones

...or your users will just start going around you and crafting their own solutions. Maintaining standards is one thing, but being an obstacle to innovation is not supporting the client or their business.

jemorris
jemorris

Sounds like you could use a vacation, a long one!

jemorris
jemorris

to tell them that that is the problem I often tell them the problem was the "chair to keyboard interface". Ususally that gets a smile and eye roll. If they start looking irritated like I might have insulted them I quickly follow up with "don't worry about it I've done same/similar thing".

zeverssl
zeverssl

William, I am not a manger but an actual support rep. There are many 'things' I think I need, but my boss always asks me to prove the need and show the value. I work in thprivate inductry with a lack of limitless funds. We also teach teh customer is always right, and I believe they are from their perspective. You and I must have the ability to see their perspective and actually come to an understanding with them why what they ask is or is not pssible or acceptible and why. We are adults and eventually the word 'no' must be used. If proper explanations are used I see no problem with that. However there is a tendency in management to view the customer as a no nothing that can be a problem, and that they should get over their issue. That does not help anyone. So the customer is always right from their perspective, but those with more and better knowledge have the repsonsiblity to educate them to the realities of what they ask and why or why it will not work. do not change the right just change the perspective.