When the Customer is Always Wrong

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / May 16, 2014


“No. I’m right. The customer is always right. Your website said you were pet friendly and I’ve paid for the room. I’m here. Mo-Mo stays!”

“I’m sorry ma’am, rhesus monkeys aren’t included in our pet policy. I can give you a full refund for your room or give you numbers for nearby animal boarding services.”

“Well you’re obviously not the manager so go get him. He needs to fix this now.”

Jill struggled to remain calm. “Ma’am, I am the manager.”

“This is outrageous. I demand a full refund plus a free nights stay!”

Some customers seem to believe they’re always right, especially when they’re wrong.

And it’s these customers that create major headaches for your business. These customers suck up more of your time. They create additional expense in the form of customer service complaints, discounts and freebies as they demand you do things “their way”.

Doing things their way isn’t usually what’s best.

Yet sane entrepreneurs who normally wouldn’t tolerate this kind of behavior in their personal life accept it from customers. Why? Because most entrepreneurs are afraid of losing the business.

That fear of loss prevents them from seeing the things customers are always wrong about

Which puts them at a disadvantage, leaving them wide open to abuse. That’s bad for you but it’s worse for the customer. That’s because it’s our job as entrepreneurs to give them the care, guidance and protection they need. So what are customers always wrong about?

They’re wrong about: The best way to solve their problems.

When a customer calls you for help, they’re making an implicit statement that they don’t know the best way to solve their problem.

Let’s say you need surgery. If you’re like most people, you don’t know the first thing about cutting yourself open, working on your organs and putting yourself back together. If you haven’t mastered that skill you don’t know the best way to solve your problem. Which is why you’d go to a surgeon.

It’s the same thing with every other profession. As an entrepreneur, you’re further along on the mastery continuum than your customers, which is why they pay you for help.

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This means customers can’t choose what’s best for them until they’re educated. Education gives them the ability to recognize inability, encouraging them to ask you for help.

Then there’s the customer who believes they know more about your business than you.

They’re wrong about: How to run your business.

Some customers feel the need to school you on how to run your business. They offer their “help” in the form of unasked for advice, criticism, and taking liberties.

Some friends of ours had a design business. Their client, Marilyn, felt she had the right to tell them how to run their business.

  • “Your business name is horrible, absolutely hor-rib-le! Are you trying to get the government to come after you?”
  • “I took the liberty of sending my design changes to Alan. I know he’s your employee but this is my project, so I changed his assignments and showed him what I needed done.”
  • “I work nights and weekends so you should be available nights and weekends. If you’re serious about keeping me as a customer that’s what I need you to do.”

Dealing with these customers can be frustrating. Many of them give you unasked for advice thinking that you can’t wait to follow their orders. When they find out you’ve ignored their advice they tend to use aggression or manipulation to get what they want.

Emotional manipulation aside, the customer telling you how to run your business is wrong. They don’t know the intimate details of your situation so they’re in no position to tell you what to do.

But it’s not just the “what” they’re wrong about, it’s also the “when”.

They’re wrong when: their choices hurt or inconvenience others.

Several coworkers and I were roped into a 3 1/2 hour meeting with a client.  It was supposed to be a short meeting where we talked about what they needed.  Instead it turned out to be a brainstorming session where they demanded a bunch of free work. It took several days for us to recover from that one meeting.

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Everyone fell behind on their work and other clients weren’t getting the attention they needed.  That one meeting cost us a lot of money and hurt our other clients in the process.

They’re wrong when: their behavior is abusive, disruptive or dysfunctional.

Some clients view you as “the help”. They don’t seem to respect what you do and feel it’s okay to treat you and your employees with a lack of respect. You’re beneath them, after all; you’re the help.

Except you’re not.

Customers often hold the unspoken viewpoint their relationship with you is a master / servant relationship. “I’ve got the money so I’m in control”. Entrepreneurs who fear losing the business buy into this mindset, giving customers the implicit permission they need to abuse them.

The reality is closer to (but not exactly like) a caregiver / child relationship. Customers aren’t aware of dangers they face, just as toddlers aren’t aware of the danger that comes with crossing the street.

You can’t give your customers the care, guidance and protection they need if you allow abusive, disruptive or dysfunctional behavior.

So how do you tell them they’re wrong?

That’s the thing, you don’t.

That is, if you want them to fix the problem. Telling someone they’re wrong amplifies their resistance. Your disagreement is viewed as an attack. Which means they have to defend themselves, against you.

Probably not what you want, right?

There’s usually something deeper going on with each of these problems. The customer with control issues may have had a horrible experience with someone else. The demanding, high maintenance customer may feel tantrums are the only way they’ll get what they need.

Find the real need and you’ll know how to deal with the problem

There’s a lot of different techniques you can use to get to the bottom of the problem. We use a variation of Starbucks’ LATTE method and it’s had an amazing effect on our relationships with several customers. Here’s how it works.

Listen to the customer, Acknowledge their issue, Take action by solving the problem, Thank them, and then Explain why the problem occurred and what they can expect in the future”.

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Using the LATTE method to get to the heart of the problem can change how you view your customers and improve relations.

What if some customers are right about your business?

Customers are full of helpful suggestions. But that doesn’t mean they know the best way to implement those suggestions.

A few years ago I had my brakes replaced. The mechanics called me in when they were done and I went to pick up my car. That’s when I heard another customer grilling the mechanics over the transmission work done on his car. “I used to be a mechanic myself so I know what needs to be done,” He bragged.

“Wow, that guy seems pretty knowledgeable.” I commented to the mechanic after he left.

He replied, “Nah, his advice is outdated. We don’t do things that way anymore.”

Maybe your customers know what they’re doing. Doesn’t mean their advice is right for your business. The information they have about your business will always be incomplete. Which means their suggestions are most likely off.

What if you don’t know what you’re doing?

Customers are still wrong (though for a different reason). If customers see you don’t know what you’re doing they have two options.

Buy or don’t buy.

But customers have no business telling you how to run your business. It’s none of their concern. Entrepreneurs will make mistakes. Those that choose to be better will figure things out pretty quickly. Those that don’t, struggle or go out of business.

The customer isn’t always right.

And as we’ve seen, there are times when a customer is always wrong. When you know what to look for you have an opportunity to do what’s best for the customer and yourself.

How do you deal with customers when they’re wrong? Let me know in the comments.

Andrew McDermott is the co-founder of HooktoWin.com. His Free 5 day mini course shows entrepreneurs how to fix website failure and attract customers automatically.

Image Credit: http://www.rasmenia.com/

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.