The Customer is Always Right… Sometimes

There is an old saying “The customer is always right” which is questioned on occasion. In the world of service providers, the vendor usually knows significantly more than the client about what the service can and can’t do. The client has approached you, as the provider, for precisely that expertise. Yet, countless times, the client will disagree with your recommendations and insist on their own path. As a vendor, what do you do?

There are, of course, several issues to be aware of.

  1. Making the client happy – if you want this client to refer you to others, they need to feel that the service you provided was more than satisfactory
  2. Your reputation – the solution you ultimately provide will reflect on your professional image
  3. Solving the client’s true need – in conjunction with the first point, if you don’t resolve the true need, the client may eventually discover this (even though you did point this out several times during your negotiations) and this will reflect on your reputation

There are three stages of working with a client, and the truth of the saying depends on which stage you are holding at:

  1. Before the contract is signed, when you are still working out the details of what needs to be done
  2. While you are doing the work
  3. After the work has been concluded

At the first stage, the customer is not necessarily correct. This is your opportunity to inform the client about what you feel the best solution is. While tact is required, you can disagree with the client openly. The client has approached you for your expertise, and that includes your opinions. The objective at this stage is to come to a common understanding of the need and the solution.

At the second stage, the customer is always right, as long as they are within the bounds of the contract. You have reached your common agreement already, and now your objective is to have a satisfied customer. Fundamental changes to what you have already agreed on will put you back into the first stage. Other changes, while you are entitled to an opinion, and should inform the client, will ultimately go the way of the client. Otherwise, you risk creating the impression that you are stubborn and difficult to deal with (which may or may not be the truth).

At the third stage, you are no longer doing work for the client. You are, however, trying to maintain a relationship with the client in order to generate leads to more business. At this stage, there is not much the client can ask for that was not covered during the first two stages. However, if the client does ask for something, you need to weigh the potential benefit of having an extremely satisfied client who may refer more business to you against the real cost of doing the work now. I’m not recommending that you give your work away for nothing, but it may be worthwhile to use your discretion to determine how to go about dealing with this request.

In summary, when the client asks you to do something, they are not necessarily correct, and you should feel free to discuss, respectfully, the issues involved in the request. However, once you have accepted to do some work, your power to disagree has diminished. If you don’t feel that the client is asking for something reasonable, perhaps you should not accept them as a client.