No.The Customer is Not Always Right!


Does this article caption seem like sacrilege? Especially in the context of all the cacophony of narratives that float around viz Customer Service, Customer Delight, Customer Centricity, Customer Experience, Customer Journey...and all of that and more.

Over time, we have transgressed(not so effortlessly) from mass to mass customisation to personalisation to customer segment of one. And somewhere in between there is the Long Tail effect as well that encourages more granularity when it comes to addressing customers.

The phrase “ The customer is always right ” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London.Business was different, expectations were certainly so and organised retail was only at the embryonic stage. This line is typically used by businesses to convince customers that they will get good service at this company and convince employees to give customers good service.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of bad employees giving lousy customer service( the United Airlines incident last year involving a passenger last year stands out like a sore thumb) but trying to solve this by declaring the customer “always right” is counter-productive.

CEO Hal Rosenbluth(owner of Rosenbluth Corporate Travel, since acquired by American Express) wrote an excellent book about their approach called Put The Customer Second – Put your people first and watch’em kick butt. Rosenbluth argues that when you put the employees first, they put the customers first. It’s a chain reaction, often overlooked by organisations and brands.

In his book Customer CentricityPeter Fader(Marketing Professor at Wharton & Co-Director,The Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative) encourages business owners to focus on the customers who matter most: “Not all customers deserve your company’s best efforts. And despite what the old adage says, the customer is most definitely not always right. Because in the world of customer centricity, there are good customers…and then there is everybody else.”

To borrow the experience that Tim Ferris(author of the wildly popular The Four Hour Work Week book) where he realised he was spending far too much time attending to customers who were contributing very little to revenues but causing high amount of stress, only to recalibrate his energies and attention to customers that warranted it best.

Haven’t we heard this before: “The customer is always right, except when they’re wrong—and then, it’s our fault”.

A more balanced way of looking at it would be to respect the customer, as it’s not about who’s right; it’s about what’s best for your company and the customer together. It takes two to tango.

Another example was when Toblerone changed the shape of their iconic chocolate bars, customers went absolutely bananas. It wasn’t that the new shape of the bars was bad, per se. It was just different, and people HATE different. Customers like to maintain the norm.The status quo, be in the comfort zone..

When you make changes in your business, you will probably get some initial backlash, even if the change that you have made, is for the better. If you have the attitude that the customer is always right, you’ll never make healthy improvements to your business because the possibility of bad customer feedback will paralyse you.

Needless to say we all need to strive for excellent customer service, or delight or experience as the case may be. But, adopting a ‘ Customer is always right ‘ policy can end up actually hurting your business. You kill employee morale, empower rude customers, slow down innovation, and even create unhappy experiences for other customers.

A much better strategy would be to empower your team to make the right decisions. And, that would translate to” The Right Customer is Always Right “. That’s a much better place to be.


Image: ISD Global

Brand You World!

It’s a Brand You world, and time to re imagine you,the Individual: being the storyteller of your own life, you either create your own legend or not.There is nothing worse than being ordinary. The current environs is not going to cosset you any more. Imagine: You’ve got a new boss: Buy a mirror: It’s YOU!



Image: Social Media 101

Our core shouldn’t be about being mediocre!

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left,  and could say, “I used everything you gave me.”
Erma Louise Bombeck

Todd Henry’s brilliant book ‘ Die Empty ‘ is a wake up call surely. A guide to reclaiming your passion, finding your voice and unleashing your brilliance every day. We always seem to find solace in the fact there will always be tomorrow. But sooner or later all of our tomorrows will run out. That is time which is limited inventory. Each day that you postpone the hard work and succumb to the clutter that chokes creativity, discipline, and innovation will result in a net deficit to the world, to your company, and equally importantly to yourself. Ready to introspect?

I understand average might be both the old and new normal but a honest hand over your heart would have you admit that you were not meant to be average, nor am I. Average might be normal – I get that. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s not for me and it shouldn’t certainly be for you!

When you day dream, do you see yourself as the average Jane or average Joe or as being grander than life? I suspect the latter. Way to go! Being mediocre maybe a safe place at first and you are in this trap of thinking that things can’t get any worse. But, we have to know that the flip side is that things won’t get any better either.

“Most humans, in varying degrees, are already dead. In one way or another they have lost their dreams, their ambitions, their desire for a better life. They have surrendered their fight for self-esteem and they have compromised their great potential. They have settled for a life of mediocrity, days of despair and nights of tears. They are no more than living deaths confined to cemeteries of their choice. Yet they need not remain in that state. They can be resurrected from their sorry condition. They can each perform the greatest miracle in the world. They can each come back from the dead…”
― Og MandinoThe Greatest Miracle in World

It’s time to start an intelligent and provocative conversation with yourself. Be content in being discontent. Set yourself lofty goals without letting them intimidate you or scare you away. The very nature of our brain is such that it cleaves to the familiar. But the brain also remembers what it least expects. So, deliver the unexpected. Let familiarity breed contempt.

When the preferable is not available, the available becomes preferable. Beware of that. And all of it’s always been done that way syndrome.

So what does this mean for creative and marketing professionals. We understand that top lines and bottom lines are necessary compulsions in our corporate life. Stakeholder greed is de rigueur. Marketers will understand that the absolute worst place for a brand is to be “middle of the road, in no man’s land.” Average, adequate, middling are all meaningless. If you are in marketing and find yourself even remotely close to any of these trio, get away, fast. There is far more life beyond ” 25 to 70% off ‘ that you have been running as campaigns religiously for over the last 7 years. You are far better than that. Stop belittling your talent and capability. Especially with all the resources(financial & human) and standing that you have in the market as a brand. And above all, your individual ability, that is far far above the mediocre.

Time to raise the bar.




The CMO’s wish list for 2018: An evolving list…

A lot of us are now on the drawing board mapping out ways to get better in 2018. The fundamentals are not going to change- reach, connect,engage, influence, transact and all of that- but what could we do to better stimulate the landscape as we get set to welcome and take on the New Year. Here’s a partial(and ever evolving list):-

a) A new BHAG of tricks: Nothing brings together a team like a BHAG — a Big Hairy Aggressive Goal —without enough time to deliver it. Backs to the wall brings out the best in us!

b) Am not alluding to the fact of disrespecting the organisation chart but don’t obsess over it on paper.Instead, get the right people, the right goals and vitally, the right trust in place.

c) And for all the HeRoines and HeRoes in HR, recruit with an immersion, not just an interview. Align passion with goals.Basic, yes! Hire marketing leaders with general management skills to ensure results exceed individual contribution.

d) When things are working well, that is the best time to deconstruct your strategy and try new things.

e) If you are in a new category where your customers need a lot of education and support, your organisation needs to be built around education first and products second.

f) Extend your approach to marketing beyond “getting a message out there”; focus on building trust.

g) Don’t overcomplicate marketing. At the end of the day, it’s still marketing: Market Research, Content, Sales enablement, Awareness, Demand generation, Partnerships, Customer retention.Customer advocacy.

h) When you’re the underdog in your industry, hire people with the DNA to creatively leapfrog the competition, not follow the industry norms. You need to have your Purple Cow(fantastic book by Seth Godin).

i) Own marketing across the organisation. Don’t be afraid to integrate marketers into other parts of the organisation, but always have at least a dotted line back to marketing.

j) Don’t be afraid of data and machine learning. The time is now to put all that data to use to solve the problems humans simply can’t and further the industry. The key is to leverage them as part of your team, not external resources. Data is the (K)new oil as they say! The transition even amongst large enterprises hitherto involved ion B 2 B marketing is happening towards a B to I space(Business to Individual).

k) The best marketing combines data and storytelling. It gives you a way to appeal to the emotional side of people. The Unique Feelings Proposition is what brands need to go after!

l) The future of marketing is in the CeX(Customer Experience). Success comes from knowing your consumers’ passions, being innovative in the way you engage them and having a team that collaborates across all aspects of the customer experience delivery. For consumers, the thrill and purpose of experience has replaced the earlier compulsion for ownership. So ride the opportunity.

m) Marketers will know that The Future of Advertising will be a thing of the past. So, re invent, re engineer, re boot and re calibrate! There is a new customer segment: the Customer Segment of 1. Get ready to reach out to them. Address mindsets, not demographics!

n) As we are all agreeing these days, digital is just as much marketing as marketing is digital. So the two roles have combined, and how! It’s a tell, tell, tell, digitell world.

o) Brands and marketers will recognise the immense power of Transparency and how consumers warm up to brands who are not afraid to stand in their own truth. In a Post Truth world, The Future is Transparency!

Marketing has the power, and responsibility, to inspire the whole company, not just customers. Marketing also has the power to be so much more than the “make it pretty” department.It has the imperative to inspire everyone in the company, not just the people who touch the product.So, let us know our rockets from our launch pads.

For inspiring quotes and actionable intelligence from brand owners and marketing champions, please check this link


Image Courtsey: Search Engine Journal

Is the 30-second ad dying?

The death of an advertising stalwart!

Well it surely appears so. And Silicon Valley is killing it.The rise of social media has made the elaborate plot lines of old-school spots seem archaic. And the Mad Men are, well, mad.Or, so was the fad!

Trapeze back to the days of the 30 second long format ads(long by today’s standards) where marketers, brand owners, agency heads, creative directors, art directors and film makers peddled a basketful of promise, creative thought and motivation to influence the seemingly reachable TG in their quest to change behaviours, cultures and consumption patterns. There was a certain trance in that romance to create.

So what is prompting the change? In an always on land of uncertainty, are we losing the plot(and losing the audience) or has the landscape itself changed?

6 is the new 30

They say 20 is the new 40 when it comes to audience maturity and demographics. Platforms like YouTube have increasingly challenged agencies to tell their stories in a 6-second slot — the average attention span of today’s mobile user. That mobile user, who again by conventional paradigm, is on a perennial instant fatigue. So 30 seconds is a long journey to risk with them!  6 has indeed become the new 30. And numbers don’t lie!

It makes sense. You might be willing to sit through a 3-minute trailer before a movie, or a 30-second “Whassup” ad before an episode of Jimmy Fallon.That may come across as non intrusive or no skin of your backBut amidst the native content of notoriously short-form channels like Instagram or Snapchat, these types of ads are disproportionately long. So much so, that they may pre qualify to be spam! Just kidding.

And for all those who are number crunchers: if we had a nickel for every 60-second YouTube video we gave up on because of an unskippable 30-second ad, we’d be at least $1.25 richer. What will you do for a few dollars more?

“Creativity is dead.” — Old School Advertisers

That almost seems like an Old Jungle saying(remember Phantom is rough with roughnecks!!!).

Ad execs counter that cutting time means sacrificing emotional stakes and story arc for the sake of speed, effectively prioritizing watchability over effectiveness.

Another, not-so-secret motive: it’s harder to get paid proportionally for the production of super-short ads, which still require actors and equipment.The CFO and CMO lines have been blurring and the motive should not surprise us.

Hey, we love Ogilvy as much as the next ad geek. But as the father of mass mediaMarshall McLuhan, put it back in the ‘60s: “The medium is the message.” Yes, we now surely get the message.

And today’s medium is 6-second Snap Stories. And it has to be over in a snap. Otherwise today’s audience will snap out of it.So the mean median for a message is all coming down to 6 in the City(and beyond).

So, Lights, Camera….do we have the time to say Action?


Image: Digitalvidya