No, the Client is NOT Always Right

The other day, a graduate student interviewed me for one of her classes. And, one of her questions was particularly interesting.

She asked, “How do you deal with clients who don’t want to be told they are wrong?”

I jokingly responded that I choose not to work with them! And, while I was somewhat kidding, that answer is largely true for my company.

I tell prospective clients upfront that they are not hiring me to agree with them. They are hiring my company because they need marketing help and they trust our recommendations will help them reach their goals.

If they don’t like that and just want us to take orders, we are not the digital marketing agency for them.

Stop Thinking the Customer is Always Right

All too often, businesses adopt the mantra “the customer is always right.” In other words, it’s our job to do whatever it takes to serve customers and make sure they are happy.

However, this concept can be incredibly problematic.

The client is NOT always right. In fact, that’s exactly why companies hire an outside marketing firm — or any vendor, agency or consultancy — because they don’t have all the answers and they need help.

There is a big difference between providing excellent customer service and agreeing with every request from your clients.

Sometimes, the client is wrong. Dead wrong.

Reasons Why The Client is NOT Always Right

Responsible businesses know when to let customers know when they are wrong.
  If you’re not sure what that looks like, here are some examples of times when the client is definitely not right:

1. Their request is unreasonable.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had clients or customers make unreasonable requests?

Service-based companies have likely dealt with this quite a bit. It could be anything from being available 24/7 and working with extremely difficult timelines to asking for free work or refusing to pay for the services.

For instance, one company was actually losing money because customers knew that if they asked for a discount, they would eventually get their way and get the lower prices they demanded.

This video encapsulates this concept perfectly. We would never try to negotiate down restaurant bills or not pay for a haircut. Yet, companies try to do this all the time with service-based businesses.

As a business owner, you have to place reasonable parameters around your work and know when to say “no.”

 Their request is unethical.

Sadly, in the PR and marketing world, there have been many tales of unethical work. Agencies have posted fake reviews online for their clients and have promoted client content without disclosing the relationship.

And, just yesterday, Gini Dietrich wrote about an agency that has created fake accounts in order to create and update their client’s Wikipedia pages — even though that goes Wikipedia’s user guidelines.

If it goes against the law, ethical guidelines or even your moral compass, you should not do it — no matter what your client says.

3. They treat your employees badly.

Sometimes, customers throw a tantrum and terrorize employees get their way.
  This is not acceptable.

All this does is give your clients license to treat you and your employees badly to get what they want. And, on top of that, it sends a subtle message that you value your customers more than your team.

That’s not good for your business. You have to know where to draw the line between satisfying disgruntled customers and supporting your team.

4. Their request won’t get the desired results.

In my world, this is perhaps the one I deal with most often. Sometimes, clients think they know best. They want a particular tactic or approach because it’s the latest and greatest “shiny object” in the marketing toolkit.

But sometimes, clients are just wrong. The approach they want won’t work or won’t get them where they want to be. It’s our job to tell them that and offer guidance around those requests.

What to do when you disagree with clients

Despite what you may think, the customer still believes she is right. Your challenge is to disagree without being disagreeable.

Here are some quick tips to help you handle disagreements appropriately:

  • Put policies in place to safeguard your company and employees.
  • Choose clients carefully — making sure you’re compatible on the front end will make it easier to handle disagreements later.
  • Educate clients on the front end about how you work.
  • Handle the disagreements with respect — there must be room for give and take.
  • Know when to hold the line and when you simply need to appease the customer.
  • Acknowledge that YOU might not be right either.
  • Know when to cut a client loose.

As I said in my interview, there are definitely times when my clients and I don’t agree. I always express why I feel something is the right approach, but ultimately, it’s THEIR business and they have to choose the path they feel is right.

And sometimes, the client is right. They know their business best.

But, sometimes they’re not. I’m not afraid to tell them that. But, I also respect if they choose to go a different way.

Do you think the client is always right? How do you handle disagreements with customers?

Image credit: valleygirl_tka

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Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

4 replies on “No, the Client is NOT Always Right”

Hi Laura,

9 times out of 10, we’re trying to find ways to REDUCE the insurance premiums we quote for our applicants. As you can imagine, affordability is a recurring objection. But every so often a customer surfaces who asks for MORE coverage than we might recommend.

There are agents out there– we refer to them not-so-kindly– as “order takers”. They would just as soon acquiesce and take down verbatim everything the client requests. After all, “We’re just serving our customers.” But are they?

There are no easy answers here, since even experienced producers can disagree over what constitutes a suitable recommendation. But it’s good to be mindful of the fiduciary standard: we don’t exist merely to “take orders” like someone behind a candy counter register. It’s our duty to act in the best interest of our clients.

Good column,
Stephen D. Forman, CLTC

PS. We’ve terminated agents who mis-treated our employees. We always stick up for our staff!

You’re right – our jobs are to give our best advice to clients and customers. However, for whatever reason, they think they know best. Sometimes, we can’t win that battle. But, merely being an order taker is not going to work out for either party!

Thanks for weighing in! So glad to hear you stick up for your staff! 🙂

I love this! I learnt the hard way to get picky about which clients to take on. After I started saying no to the ones I suspected would become high maintenance or drop out (I run a tutoring business), we can offer a more consistent service, my staff are happier, and the existing clients get a smoother ride – so they stick around longer. The 10% of clients who take up all that time and effort just aren’t worth it sometimes.

Hi Kate – Thanks for your comment. Sadly, most companies end up learning this lesson the hard way. I have too! But, I’m glad to see you’ve changed your approach and only say “yes” when it makes sense for both you and the client. Good for you!

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