“The customer is always right.”
Undoubtedly, you’re familiar with this saying and the belief that the best philosophy is to treat the customer exactly this way. But every so often it’s actually in their best interest to indicate when they might be wrong.
Perhaps that sounds a bit presumptuous, but customers are sometimes working with incomplete information or don’t have the technical expertise that an experienced vendor brings to the table, placing them at risk of making a decision that can negatively affect the outcome of their project. In these cases, I believe we should speak up.
My wife, Alison, recently experienced the benefit of having an expert tell her that she didn’t need what she thought she did. She was in the market for a horse and because she’s ridden all her life, she felt she had a clear picture of what to look for. She hired her riding coach to help with her search, but when she filled her in on the qualities she wanted in the animal, her coach said “Sure [insert doubtful tone here], but if you find a horse with these other attributes, you’ll buy that one, right?” Her coach then went on to describe a completely different type of horse – older, different training level and so on. She made these recommendations because she had more experience than my wife and could more easily see what would benefit her in the long run.
Alison initially stuck to her original plans, but after looking at several options along those lines, she ended up purchasing a horse that fit her coach’s description to the letter. And she’s never been happier. She says that if she’d bought the type of horse she thought she wanted, she would have felt disappointed by now.
I’m often compelled to address assumptions made by customers – for example, that sound masking shouldn’t be used in closed spaces or, similarly, that they can just ‘spot treat’ small areas that concern them. Other common discussion points include using masking in conference rooms or hallways, the appropriate size for adjustment zones and who should have control over the sound masking settings. In these cases, I want to ensure that the customer makes an informed decision. If I identify the problems they’re likely to experience and they still opt to follow their original course, then at least I’ve fulfilled my responsibility as a trusted vendor. Where possible, I also let them know which of the issues can be easily addressed in the future should (or...when) my concerns materialize.
Is a vendor always going to know better than the customer? Absolutely not. But it’s certainly worth listening to what they have to say and asking for backup to support their viewpoint.
Amazingly, I’ve run across senior executives at facilities vendors who say we should just give the customer whatever they ask for, damn the negative consequences. When I press them as to why they don’t allow the customer to benefit from their experience, they tell me that it’s not their responsibility or that it’s too risky because the client will just turn to another vendor who will simply say ‘yes.’
So, here’s my promise to you. When you work with me, I’ll challenge you if I believe you’re heading down the wrong path. I’ll also provide as much support for my opinion as possible. In the end, the decision is yours, of course, but I don’t want you to make it without first being made aware of the possible consequences.
I want your project to have as positive an outcome as possible. And it’s not that you can’t always get what you want (per The Rolling Stones)...it’s just that, sometimes, you shouldn’t.
I’d like to hear about your experiences. Have you ever worked with a vendor who recommended a different course of action than what you originally thought was the right one?