When the customer isn’t right Featured

11:29am EDT June 6, 2013
Dustin S. Klein, Publisher and Vice President of Operations, Smart Business Network Inc. Dustin S. Klein, Publisher and Vice President of Operations, Smart Business Network Inc.

Every year for the past seven years, I’ve had the privilege of hearing executives from many of the region’s top organizations passionately explain how they deliver world-class customer service. And every year, I’ve come away from this experience armed with new ideas.

This year, one idea posited gave me pause. At the same time, however, it reaffirmed one of my long-held beliefs that seems diametrically opposed to the usual mantra, “The customer is always right.”

In describing their competitive advantage, two executives cited their ability to effectively tell clients what they don’t want to hear. They reset conventional wisdom and succinctly explain to clients why what they believe to be correct often isn’t. And then, they offer better solutions. This, they said, is one reason why they have prospered.

Think about this. With the exception of trusted advisers — typically lawyers, accountants and bankers, people whom we intentionally pay to set us straight — nearly everyone else we contract with is given the expectation that we want what we want, when we want it and sometimes even how we want it done.

On the surface, telling your clients “No” flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But in reality, it makes perfect sense.

Take, for example, these two entrepreneurs. They assigned a key business success metric to telling clients “No” and then explaining why they should do something they may not want to do or are simply reluctant to incorporate. They believe that the best customer service delivery may contradict a client’s wishes. But, at the same time, it provides a better solution that will lead to even greater success — and higher client satisfaction.

A critical element of any top-notch customer service initiative is showing clients you truly care about them. You can’t give this lip service. Your actions must be real. Demonstrate a genuine desire to forge and foster a real partnership and the client will recognize whatever solutions — or services — you provide are developed because you truly believe they are what are best for the client’s organization.

Isn’t this the essence of what your clients and customers pay you for — to provide them with the best possible solution for their business pain point?

One of my friends has fired dozens of clients because they refused to listen to advice they paid him to provide or failed to incorporate solutions they paid him to create — all of which were designed to fix systematic problems with their businesses that they didn’t see. His reasoning was straightforward: Why partner with a company that you know is going to fail because their management team is already set on a solution that won’t work?

Experience painfully taught him that the end result is always the same: Clients will still blame you for their own mistakes — even if they choose that direction instead of the one you provide them with. When that happens, they say you weren’t forceful enough in selling them on your solution or that you didn’t adequately warn them they would fail.

The bottom line here is simple:  Anyone can turn service delivery into a commodity. Just become an order taker. But only a select few can think differently about customer service. Those that truly understand the value of pointing out when a client is wrong in his or her assertions, and is willing to risk the loss of business in order to do what’s right for that client, will more often than not succeed. Better yet, they will gain a lifetime of trust.

Dustin S. Klein is publisher and vice president of operations of SBN Interactive, publishers of Smart Business magazine. Reach him at dsklein@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7026.