The Customer Is Not Always Right

The Customer Is Not Always Right

This is going to be an article that will be argued with by many companies.  But this blog will also resonate with many companies.

When I worked at Whataburger I had a customer order french fries to be placed on his hamburger.  I personally thought this was stupid and I didn’t want to give the customer this request.  My general manager said “Whataburger is just like you like it, even if it’s stupid to you.  The customer is always right”.  So it was ingrained in my head that “the customer is always right”.  

Then I became a police officer.  My customers were generally never right.

So when I began my cleaning business I was still a full time police officer.  I had been retrained to “the customer is generally never right, and I need to educate them”.  This at the beginning was a struggle for me with my business because I was very matter of fact, and I was straight to the point.  

I discovered running a business is not quite like being a police officer, but they have many parallels.  I once had a customer tell me they wanted me to use a 4000 PSI machine with no bleach to clean their house, because they thought it was a safer alternative.  

This is one of those wonderful moments where you are thinking “THE CUSTOMER IS NOT RIGHT”.  Don’t rub it in their face, educate them on why you do things the way you do it.

Why did I feel like this is a necessary subject to discuss?  It is not because of what I have mentioned above.  This is being discussed to prevent you from being taken advantage of by your customers who believe they are always right.  If they are taking advantage of you or your business, they are ALWAYS wrong.

Have you had a customer call and say the following,

Customer: Hello I need to get a quote to clean my driveway.  I have already called 3 other companies and I am trying to figure out if you use biodegradable chemicals when cleaning the driveway?

Company:  We use bleach when cleaning a driveway.  It is a biodegradable product. 

Customer:  I watched a YouTube video where someone said they used a biodegradable solution, and I want you to use that solution when cleaning my driveway.  I have a degree in physics and I know what I am talking about.  I don’t want you to use bleach, it is not biodegradable.

Company:  I can look into what you are talking about, but we use bleach when cleaning a driveway to prevent lines from appearing when the concrete dries.

Customer:  I would NEVER allow anyone to use bleach on my driveway, bleach is a carcinogen and it is not safe for my pets or vegetation.

Company:  I don’t think you will be a good fit for our company, I recommend you using one of the 3 previous companies you called to quote your driveway.

Customer:  I am extremely astounded you would turn away business!  I don’t see your company getting very far.  Did you not know the customer is always right?  I am well educated and know business, you are unprofessional and rude.

Company:  I am sorry you feel this way, I have another call coming in I have to let you go “click”.

Does this sound like something that has happened to you?

Let’s dissect this conversation.

First of all, if they have a degree in physics, why in the hell are they getting 4 quotes for a 200$ service?  Just get someone to wash the damn driveway.

Second, if they watched YouTube and have become a self proclaimed expert, why the hell are they calling you?

Third, according to the CDC bleach is not a carcinogen and there are still studies being made to determine if that is a fact.

1 hour later you get the same phone call, from the same person and they begin asking more questions.  Where do you draw the line?  Do you spend 20 more minutes on the phone wasting your time?  Or do you have a pissing contest with someone you don’t even want as a customer?

Don’t be desperate, set boundaries.  If the customer is like this, more than likely who they associate with are as well.  Do you really want them referring you to more customers who are like them?

Now keep this in mind, this is a problem all businesses have.

This isn’t just a problem you will have with residential customers, this is also something that happens in the commercial world.

I will create a reenactment of a customer we washed for.

Customer:  I need a quote for weekly washing our sidewalks at our store.

Company:  It will be 275$ for the work.

Customer:  But it is only 1 hour worth of work, you charge 275$ for 1 hour of work?  That is more than a doctor!  I don’t even pay my doctor that much!

Company:  That is what we charge, we have a lot of expenses involved including drive time.

Customer:  Well the current company we are using I am not happy with, so I am going to still give this a chance, even though I don’t like your pricing.

I want you to read into this and it sounds similar to something I typed about in a previous blog, a customer who speaks negatively about their current or former provider.  This is what we call “A Clue”.

We washed this location for a few months and then this happens…

Customer:  Your guys surface cleaned the sidewalks and in the process we have a few specs of dirt on one of our windows.  I need you to come back out and wash this window.

Company:  You want me to drive 45 minutes to squeegee one window?  

Customer:  Yes, this is a problem and I don’t feel like my maintenance staff should have to do this.

Company:  Alright.  We will send out our technician.

We sent our guy out on a special trip (even though we were returning in 5 days to wash again) to squeegee one window, which essentially takes 30 seconds.  This is one of those circumstances that I am glad we had no contract.

Company:  Alright, we cleaned the window and it has been taken care of.

Customer:  By the way, can you have your guys come out every other week?  We need to cut some expenses.

Company:  No, in fact we will no longer service your store.

Customer:  Why?  I pay you a lot of money to do so little.

Company:  Then you won’t have a hard time finding someone else to do the work.  “Click”

Are you seeing a pattern here?  These individuals give us “indicators” that they will be a bad customer before we ever service them.  This customer cared so little about our company, that they were ok with us wasting 2 hours of our time to do something their in house maintenance could have done in 1 minute that would cost them essentially nothing.  What that tells me is he did not care about my business and had no value for us.  He felt that he was over paying and had to get “his money's worth” out of us.  Sadly, the money wasn’t even his, it belonged to corporate.  But he clearly made it obvious to us that he was vindictive towards us.  He was happy with the quality of work , and when we made one error he created a huge production out of it.  That is a customer for your competitor, not you.  This customer was not right.

We will go into a conversation we will have at our store with a walk in customer.  (this is a replica of a real conversation we have had with a customer)

Customer:  I need to know what degree nozzle is best for surface cleaning concrete.

Company:  In most instances we use a 25 degree nozzle.

Customer:  But I want to use a 40 degree nozzle.

Company:  Then use a 40 degree nozzle.

Customer:  But you are telling me you use the 25 degree nozzle.

Company:  Yes, because that is what we use and what we prefer for our cleaning applications.

Customer:  But why can’t I use a 40 degree nozzle?

Company:  I didn’t say you can’t use a 40 degree nozzle.

Customer:  But someone told me I should use a 40 degree nozzle.

Company:  If you already knew which one you wanted to use, why are you asking me which one we recommend?  Just use the 40 degree if that is what you are comfortable with.

Customer:  But now you are telling me to use the 25 degree nozzle, after I have been told to use the 40 degree nozzle.  Let me get the 40 degree nozzles.

Company:  Ok we will pull the part and bring it up front.

Customer:  Thanks, how much are these 4 nozzles?  

Company:  They are 6$ each totalling 24$.

Customer:  Oh that costs too much.  Can you put them back?  Do you have any cheaper nozzles?

Company:  No.  We don’t.  They are 6 dollars.

Customer:  But I only want to pay 4 dollars per nozzle.

Company:  Then go somewhere else and buy them.

Customer:  But the only way I can get them at 4 dollars each is if I buy them online, and I don’t want to pay for shipping.

Company:  I don’t know what to do to help you.  I recommend just going to Northern Tool at this point.

45 minutes later the customer returns.

Customer:  The nozzles were 9$ at Northern Tool, can I get them for 4$?

Company:  No you cannot.

Customer:  Can I get the 25 degree nozzles then?

Company:  Yes let me pull them up.

Customer:  How much are they?

Company:  6 dollars each.

Customer:  Can you cancel that? I don't want to spend 6 dollars per nozzle.

Company:  I have another customer walking in. I need you to hold on.

The customer waits 30 minutes until the other person leaves.

Customer:  Ok, so back to those nozzles, do you really recommend the 25 degree nozzle?

Company:  I don’t know how to help you, we keep repeating the same answers and we are going nowhere with this conversation.

Customer:  I can’t believe you would talk to a paying customer this way!  I am ready to spend MY money with you, and you aren’t willing to help me.  The customer service here sucks and I am not happy.  I just want the damn nozzles for 4 dollars and you won’t sell them to me that cheap.

Company:  Once again, this is going nowhere and we don’t know how to help you at this point.

Does this sound familiar?  If you are the Company, we understand how you feel.  This has been a regular occurrence for us.  If you are the Customer (which you likely won’t admit it to anyone out loud), then shame on you for wasting a business's time with your bullshit.  You are not right, and you are not a customer anyone actually wants.

To go a step farther imagine this next conversation (this is also a replica of a real conversation).

Customer:  Hello I am wanting to get a custom pressure washer built for my business.

Company:  Excellent!  What kind of pressure washer are you wanting us to build?

Customer:  I am looking for a 4000 PSI at 8 GPM hot water machine but I need it to have schedule 160 coils and a 5 pancake rather than a 4 pancake coil.  I want it to have a vertical coil so that I can also have a narrower profile.

Company:  Ok, so based on what you are asking for a machine built like this will be in the ballpark of 18,000$.  Have you considered getting a schedule 80 coil since the burst pressure is rated for 23,000 PSI?  It will lower your cost substantially.

Customer:  I need to have schedule 160 because I need to have more rigid coils and they also retain heat longer making them more efficient.  I also am not paying that price, I am looking for something in the ballpark of 8000$.  Can I buy 4 of these at this price?  I am sure that will make it worth the while.

Company:  No, we are not building a custom machine like this for 8000$.  We will lose money building you this machine.

Customer:  But 32,000$ is a lot of money!   I know you can make it work. 

Company:  No, we will not build this for 8000$.

Customer:  Ok then will you build it for 8000$ if we do schedule 80 coils?

Company:  No, we won't, the cost will still be over 10,000$ for what you are asking for.

Customer:  What if I buy 6?

Company:  No, we are not doing that.

Customer:  Lets go back to the schedule 160 conversation.  I want to know why the cost goes up so much, and why you don’t build them with this feature already?

Company:  Because most people don’t want to pay 18,000$ for something that doesn’t actually give them a benefit.

Customer:  But I told you there is a benefit, this is what makes a better machine, but I am only willing to pay 8000$.

Company:  I don’t know where you are taking this conversation, but this is not going to be a good fit.  I recommend you contact The Other Company and see if they can help you because this is not going to work out between us.

Two days later, this same customer calls back.

Customer:  Hello!  I don’t know if you remember me, but we spoke 2 days ago about a build you were going to do for me for 8000$?

Company:  I didn’t forget who you are, and we aren’t building it for 8000$.

Customer:  But I decided to go with 3500 PSI at 5.5 GPM, and I know this will take my cost below 8000$ if I downgrade the specs and use a smaller engine and pump.

Company:  I am not going to do this.  I don’t know why you are assuming we want to build this for you.

Customer:   Because I am ready to spend 32,000$ with you.

Company:  I don’t want your 32,000$.  I don’t want to build you a machine.

Customer:  Why are you being unreasonable?  I am not being rude to you and you are taking this way out of context.  I am asking for you to take my money and you won’t take it, I don’t understand.


This is a reenactment of me, Marco Ramonda speaking with someone who just didn’t get it until I hung up on him.  The first conversation was actually an hour long.  The second conversation was 45 minutes.  I had a “fear” of offending the customer by cutting them off, or telling him to go to hell.  Don’t worry about offending your customer by closing the conversation or cutting them off.

If you are this customer (we refer to them as engineers), then shame on you.  You are NOT RIGHT.  And guess what else?  YOU AREN’T MY CUSTOMER.

The customer is not always right.  And don’t let customers take advantage of you, or your staff.  Establish boundaries, or you will struggle in business.  I know, I have failed to establish boundaries in the past and it has caused us to serve people who should have never been our customer in the first place.  

These individuals are a customer for your competitor, not for you.

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