The Customer is Always Right and Other Rubbish
In my first job as a stock boy at Toys R Us, an imposing sign barked on the wall in the break room in big block letters: “The customer is always right.” Young, green and inexperienced, I took it as fact and operated accordingly, despite encountering customers at times who were downright mean or deserving of a hard right hook to the noggin. Talk to others in retail and they’ll robotically regurgitate this “customer is always right” mantra, however disingenuous it may sound. After nearly 30 years as a marketer of technology companies, I can say emphatically: this mantra is pure rubbish.
In any business, there are customers that run the gamut from ideal to horrible. The ideal ones are those who buy your product or service and, eventually serve as a brand ambassador for you to the larger marketplace. They make no silly demands or harbor unreasonable expectations. In essence, they are loyal, profitable customers. These customers you keep.
The horrible customers are just the opposite. They expect more than what was promised or delivered, demand more than what they paid for and spread less than helpful feedback to the market via social mediums. They are drains, both financially and on the morale of the unfortunate employees stuck with servicing them. Any which way you slice it, these customers are unprofitable and they are not “right” for your business. These customers you fire.
When businesses fail to recognize this fundamental truth, every customer or prospect is assessed like every other customer or prospect. In truth, they’re not all alike and, as such, they should be valued differently at the very start of the customer’s buying process. Two different prospects might be considering the same technology purchase, thus having equal contract values in the CRM system, but portend vastly different post-sale demands, leading to hugely incongruent profitability quotients.
Finding additional ideal customers requires both smart marketing and disciplined opportunity management. Smart marketing targets the right prospects with the right information in the right context to ensure that prospects clearly understand what to expect from a product or service. Nothing earth shatteringly breakthrough about this point other than to say that it is far easier said than done. Disciplined opportunity management drives the ball forward through various stages to ensure that the buyer and seller are on equal footing with respect to the product or service. If you’ve been in technology sales for long enough, you know intuitively when this divergence occurs. While the top line contract price doesn’t change, the astute sales executive can spot a “not always right” customer in the making. It takes equal part guts and brains to walk away from a potential customer, but it’s often the exactly correct move.
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