Is The Customer Always Right?

Posted by on May 27, 2010 in Entrepreneurship | 2 comments

I was flipping through this month’s (May 2010) Inc. when I came across the a “How I Did It” article about Bob Moore, founder, owner, operator of Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods (they supply whole grain flours to health food stores). He grew the business into a $70 million/year company, and at the age of 81 has decided to institute an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) and sell the company to his employees. By all accounts the man is amazing, an example for us all as we attempt to build a business.

Moore says at one point in the article

When you’re in business, there are two doors you can walk through. You can walk through the door where you treat the customer like your guest, operating by the rule that the customer is always right. Or you can be cutthroat. The first door is the door of kindness. That’s the one I decided to walk through.

“The customer is always right” is a business saw that’s as old as the hills, but is the customer always right? I think it’s more true in certain businesses than in others.

If a customer buys a steak in a restaurant, and says it’s no good, they are right. If a customer comes into a dry cleaner and says the shirt is badly pressed, they are right. What, however, if the customer wants to pour money into Yellow Pages advertisements? What about the customer who wants to build a pure Flash site, or the customer who wants to use his 14 year old nephew “to do social media,” are they right? (perhaps I should be nervous about that last one, kids today are pretty good)

As marketing pros, people who are paid for our expertise, there are assuredly times when the customer is not right. We will try to dissuade them from doing things that we don’t think are best for their business, and lay out the reasons why — though this can often-times proves tricky. We don’t always reach a consensus. Because this is a service industry, we will, ultimately, do what the client wants. It does not mean, however, that the client is right. Like Bob Moore we eschew the cut-throat approach. We strive to treat customers like guests. In a service industry though there is a thin line between serving your customer well, and throwing their money down the tubes in order to do what they want because they are the customer.

2 Comments

  1. The customer is always right, but the client is not — that’s the truth.

    But if its their money they should be able to spend it as frivolously as they want to. I think its our job to advise and guide but in the end if we don’t put up a fight, caution and caveat in a friendly manner we are adhering to the adage of the customer is always right.

    I always took it to mean not that they were right, but they should be treated as such even when they are wrong.

  2. Thanks for swinging by. I appreciate your comment and agree with it.

    I think you make a good distinction and between the client and the customer. I think that our experience in this business shows that the adage does apply. Even if we don’t agree with the client wishes, we’ll execute the request.

    I’m sure that the restaurant owner may not agree either with the fact the steak is badly cooked, but will provide a new one if the customer says it’s badly cooked.