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?


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.