By Jeff Stern
I’ve been in business pretty much since I was a child. My first business as a disc jockey began when I was 15-years-old as Jeff Stern Music Services, then I bought and ran Odyssey Light and Sound for many years after. First, I had to take a taxi to gigs, then once I had my driver’s licence, I was able to get a van and the rest was history. I even bought dead batteries from service stations around Winnipeg and sold them to scrap metal dealers, sometimes at a net loss when my jeans were damaged from leaking acid.
For the last almost three decades I’ve been in the real estate industry, but I’ve built, grown, or worked for various businesses across a number of industries. What I discovered in all those years is that my dad was right. Being a business man himself, he drilled it into me that excellence in customer service is what makes or breaks a business. “And son,” he’d say with that look in his eye, “if you remember anything, remember this: The customer is always right. Even if they’re wrong.”
That sounded weird to me at first, and I’m sure it sounds weird to some people now. But my years of interacting with umpteen thousands of people have proven time and again, that it was true.
Every parent and spouse has had that discussion with someone whose argument was completely off base, but they also wouldn’t concede the point. You know what I’m talking about. Maybe you debated with a family member about a childhood memory you both think belongs to you. Or maybe you’re listening to a client say (irately) they never got the all-important email you should have sent, yet you are at that moment looking at the very proof of having sent it – there it is, sitting in your sent folder, yet the client’s anger is unabated.
You’ll never argue someone into submission or agreement. Not a customer or client, anyway.
Brain science backs this up, by the way. For years, scientists have known humans make decisions not based on logic but based on emotion. Even our everyday Facebook memes and common sayings reflect that, on some level, we do acknowledge this truth; “People forget what you say, but they remember how you make them feel” or “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Those business people who try to “logic” a customer out of their state of frustration or disappointment are “doomed to fail, because decision making isn’t logical, it’s emotional, according to the latest findings in neuroscience.”
There have been times when my clients have been wrong, yet, I’ve treated them like they’re right. I’ve had those days when someone is completely misreading the situation, is running off half-cocked on some random misinformation, and will not listen to any advice to the contrary.
I don’t argue.
I’m a professional who’s on their side, so I’ll offer insight and suggestions, but at the end of the day, if they’re unwilling to heed professional advice, it gets stressful and I’ve got to keep my composure and deal. We all do.
Running home for some cat therapy during the day is helpful at times. There’s nothing like the gentle “purr” of one of my feline furkids to get me back to calm. Sometimes it’s completely appropriate to just call it quits and politely part ways. That has its place too. My father had another saying that exemplifies this too: “A poor peace is better than a good war”. Sometimes two good people don’t see eye to eye. And that is fine.
Either way, however you deal with the headache, it has to be done from a place of maintaining composure, and of honouring the customer or client, however off-base they may be.
Because no one ever won an argument with them.
And especially in this digital age of complaints on tap, it’s critical to behave with respect.
Practically, this looks pretty simple. It looks like a single statement by David Ogilvy, author of Confessions of an Advertising Man: “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife.”
As a husband, I can definitely relate to the wisdom in that. If my wife disagrees with me on something – even if she’s dead wrong about it – I won’t necessarily “win” the debate with logic. Neuroscience won’t allow that. Even in her wrongness though, I completely respect and adore her.
Our customers and clients deserve respect too, even if they’re wrong.
I’ve heard too many “professionals” and business people talk about their customers like they’re morons. I’ll bet you have, too. Unfortunately, it reveals their attitude toward people a bit like the 1950s ad man – assuming people are idiots to whom one can sell anything if only you’ll tell them what and how to think.
That kind of salesmanship is long dead, thank goodness. Customers and clients are not morons, as too many assume.
They’re more like the wife – a person you respect, regardless of your differences. Someone with whom you want a relationship. Someone you strive to get along with, even when they sometimes don’t make a lot of sense.
This was ingrained in me: the customer is ALWAYS right. Even if they’re wrong. You’ll never argue them into submission or agreement. Concede. Serve. When you are dealing with a customer or client, whether they right or wrong, you do everything to satisfy and fulfill your obligations. As long as they are being respectful – obviously, verbal abuse or violent behaviour is an exit.
If there is one take-away from this article it is this: even if you win an argument with a customer or client, you lose. No one has ever won an argument with a customer. Because the customer is the one with the issue, and the one who is owed anything in the arrangement. No matter how right you may have been, their reality is the one that counts. This age of social media amplifies this even more.
Today, with the world at our fingertips, this advice is even more powerfully accurate. It takes three seconds to spread a bad story about a business. To tell friends, family and the local news reporters about the seedy goings-on of businesses. A displeased customer can publicly retaliate on a business owner within seconds. Be careful what you say and do. No matter what it is, it can be out there. And without any control.