For some, the meaning of the adage “the customer is always right” has evolved from “businesses should listen to consumers because they drive the market” to “businesses should always focus on giving customers exactly what they want—no matter the ask or the cost.” However, sometimes the customer isn’t actually right, and giving in to their demands isn’t the wise move.
When a customer is angry or frustrated, it’s important for a business to listen to and empathize with their concerns. But if that customer is ultimately wrong, you shouldn’t make unreasonable sacrifices or do something that’s not really in their best interests just to get back into their good graces. Here, 10 Young Entrepreneur Council members share their thoughts on how to strike a balance between ensuring a customer feels well-treated and doing what’s right for your business.
1. Extract The Problem, Then Present Solutions
As the famous saying goes, “To someone with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The most important thing to remember when the “customer isn’t right” is that by the sheer fact of engaging you, they know they have a problem, but they most likely don’t know a good solution. When trying to explain, they often throw out ineffective ideas (often the exact “ideas” that got them where they are in the first place). It is our job to extract the true problem from them and then present solutions from our much larger toolkit. Once you show you truly understand a customer’s needs and how your solution fulfills them, they will almost always accept your solution. Throughout my career, I have seen that if we do this, the customers stop bringing ideas and just call us for solutions, and they are never wrong again. - Jason Azevedo, MRCA
2. Show Them You Hear Them
Listening is key. We find that clients want to be heard. When you can repeat back what the client has said to you at the start, without suggesting anything or pushing back, it builds trust and they feel understood. This is key to eliminating any tension. We find that when we listen first and repeat a client’s request back to them, they are ten times more open to our suggestions for what we feel is best for their business. By simply showing them we understand their side, we find they are much more receptive to our side. We’ve done this when negotiating higher retainers or justifying price increases, and it almost always works. At the very least, it allows for a much more pleasant discussion. - Ethan Kramer, EK Creative
3. Validate Their Feelings
I’ve found it’s more important for the customer to feel heard than to be right. Over the years, we’ve had many customer complaints, including some legitimate ones due to mistakes on our part. Once they realize they are talking to a real person who is empathetic and apologetic about their experiences, most customers become more reasonable in their demands. “I’m so sorry you had that experience! That’s not the experience we wanted for you. How can we make things better in the future?” goes so much further than, “Sorry you feel that way. Nothing we can do.” - Pokin Yeung, Big Box Labs
4. Stay True To Your Core Values
In all my businesses, we have clearly defined core values that the whole team knows by heart, and we make sure that all actions are taken with those core values in mind. Two of the team’s favorites are “Love not Fear” and “Customer Success.” We always strive to do the best for our clients, and we do it with love. However, if a client is not behaving in line with our core values and the team is affected by that, we don’t hesitate to terminate the contract with that client. Our core values are our North Star, and by following those, we do what’s best for the business while providing the best possible service for our clients. - David Henzel, LTVplus
5. Get To The Bottom Of What The Client Really Wants
First, leading a client relationship is key. The moment they are leading us, we are no longer a strategic partner, but a services vendor. Second, make sure you understand what the client truly wants—often, it’s not what they initially come asking for. What they really want may be top-line growth, or more SQLs, or even improved employee engagement. But what they may ask for is a “new website” or a “campaign” or something that’s just a tactic to get to the bigger want. Third, make sure you clearly help the client understand why you’re pushing the solutions that you are. When you explain the “why,” it’s easier for them to grasp the full picture and get on board with the work being done. - Andrew Howlett, Struck
6. Establish A Strong Company Culture
It is definitely sometimes hard to establish a balance between what a customer asks for and what’s best for the business. What really helps is to predefine concrete business values and establish a strong company culture. The company values act as the unofficial regulator for your employees, while a strong culture is present in all business operations, including interactions with customers. Culture is there throughout the whole customer journey, ensuring smooth onboarding and the setting of clear expectations. - Dave Hengartner, ready
7. Determine Whether Making Changes Will Fit Into Your Business Plan
While it is important to be adaptable and able to respond to clients’ needs, you also have to keep in mind whether making changes fits into your business plan. Although it’s tempting, we all know that being everything to everybody is unrealistic. If a client’s needs exceed what you are able to provide or fall outside your sphere of expertise, you may have to agree to part ways. However, many times, being flexible to accommodate a client’s needs can help take your business to the next level by compelling you to level up your service. The key to hitting the right balance is being confident in what does and doesn’t fit into your business model and whether or not changes can really improve your bottom line while still being worthwhile adaptations to your business in the long term. - Maria Thimothy, OneIMS
8. Know When To Hold And When To Fold
I equate dealing with customers and what they want—or are complaining about—to playing poker. You have to know when to hold and when to fold. Customers who are left unhappy will talk about you on social media and/or will post a bad review, so you have to let them feel as though they’ve “won”—even if they didn’t actually “win.” This calls for some finesse and smooth-talking, as well as doing something that doesn’t hurt your business’ bottom line. I had one customer who complained there wasn’t enough of a product for everyone at an event. There was a second option, but she wanted “that” option, and five people didn’t get it. I gave her credit for the five people, which totaled around $50, and apologized. That was a small price to pay for her walking away satisfied. - Baruch Labunski, Rank Secure
9. Be Transparent During The Conversation
Find out what the customer really wants. Believe it or not, a lot of the time they just want to be heard and don’t necessarily want a discount, freebie or refund. But when they do, be honest and upfront and offer them something of value while also protecting your assets or revenues. As long as you’re transparent during the conversation, you can usually come to a mutually agreeable outcome. - Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance
10. Keep In Constant Communication With Customers And Employees
When it comes to customer experience, every situation is unique. Most of the time, you can make customers happy or offer them something to make their day and alleviate any issues. But when it comes to striking a balance between the customer being right and your business, you need to use your best judgment. Again, it depends on the situation. Finding a happy medium between elevating your business and keeping customers happy means you need to constantly check in with your customers as well as your employees to gauge how everything is going. Keeping in constant communication is key to running a business smoothly and successfully so that both the customers and employees are happy. - Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms
Image Credit: Pexels.com - Photo by Adrienn
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