Greg writes in and wants to know if that’s really true. What if the customer is an amnesiac, a jerk, a difficult blowhard badmouther? What if the customer is the sort that wears his LL Bean khakis for a year and then sends them back?
In our ultracompetitive markets, how can you possibly have a chance in the face of enormous consumer power?
The answer might surprise you. It’s the unwritten rule 3 on Stew Leonard’s famous granite rock:
If the customer is wrong, they’re not your customer any more.
In other words, if it’s not worth making the customer right, fire her.
Successful organizations (and I include churches and political parties on the list) fire the 1% of their constituents that cause 95% of the pain.
Fire them. Politely decline to do business with them. Refer them to your arch competitors. Take them off the mailing list. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, don’t be rude, just move on.
If you’ve got something worth paying for, you gain power when you refuse to offer it to every single person who is willing to pay you.
In 1988, my book packaging company had about six weeks worth of payroll in the bank. Yet we fired our biggest customer, someone who accounted for more than half our revenue. I still believe it was the right thing to do. We ended up happier and more successful, making up the business in a few months time.
If you treat a customer like he’s wrong, he’s going to leave, and probably tell a bunch of other people. Before you take that route, be direct, straightforward, polite and firm, and decline to sell to them.
So yes, the customer is always right. And if they’re not, then one way or the other, they’re not your customer any more.