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

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

If CeX(Customer Experience) is the future,why are brands missing out?

“The best way to find your self is to lose your self in the service of others”- Mahatma Gandhi.

How often have we heard all of these statements below especially in the recent past?
Experience is the new brand.
Experiences are the new branding.
The Future is Experience.
Brands will be all about CeX(Customer Experience).
CeX(Customer Experience) is the flavour of the season and beyond and will be for a long long time to come, especially in the context of a hyper cluttered, over commoditised, always on world.The world is migrating from a culture of ‘ ownership ‘ to a movement of ‘ experiences ‘. All of this is stating the obvious but then many a brand seem to overlook this with gay abandon.
A lot of us would have experienced hotel brands during our travels either for business or pleasure.Top of the draw 5 and 4 star properties from the leading hotel brands in the world. How many of us(especially the middle aged with presbyopia staring at us in the eye) have gone in for a shower and struggled to read the writing on the tiny bottles of shampoo or shower gel or body lotion. You take the risk only to realise that the body lotion is fighting desperately for your scalp’s attention only for it to be given the slip. That there is lather in your eyes doesn’t help your cause. What stops the hotel brands from labelling these bottles in big, bold, readable fonts to distinguish one from the other. Lather sorry rather myopic, isn’t it? Especially considering Gen X and Baby boomers still contribute substantially to the hospitality industry’s coffers. About time some prudence showered down. Should we stay different?
Cutting edge technology is supposed to be at the forefront of banking services, especially in their quest for simply better banking that drives customer delight. And this customer is the one calling to find out the outstanding due on her credit card to ensure the payment(and the full bill at that) is made on time. How remiss of you- you are not a ‘ prized customer ‘ for the bank as you are not earning them either late fee or interest. Nor giving their pre decided script driven coveted call centre staff to act one (or even two) up on you.With all the preamble of voice recognition, telephone pin , IVR etc you expect a request such as finding the balance should be a matter of a few seconds. Don’t be surprised, a recent call made history with 18 plus minutes of conversation.Yes, it’s just seconds only, but all 1080 of it. We are told that these calls are monitored for quality and assurance purposes. That’s so reassuring, but, we are still waiting. Because they insist our call is important to them. Simply better anyone?
For all those who have been at the receiving end(pardon the pun) of service from the courier industry. The all important document can only be received by you upon identification etc. That’s all very well as they are taking the right precautions to ensure the receiver is genuine and can authenticate her identity. Perfectly acceptable. So, when you get the call, you ask the courier company what time would the document be delivered and the ‘ comforting ‘ response is ‘ anytime between 9 am and 6 pm ‘. Wow, phenomenal, you just wait until kingdom come(or the delivery staff) and give up on everything else you are doing that day. Upon your request, a note of the specific time is made on their ‘ system ‘, only for you to realise that the delivery man turned up exactly at the time you were not in. Doesn’t all this make you Fed Up?
No, normally you don’t have less than ten items at the hypermarket especially on the weekend. So, you damn well be in the ‘ cattle class ‘ line. After touring several aisle of Man(and Woman) in the store, and picking up both wanted (and unwanted) items, you get ready to take on the serpentine lines and tread heavily to the front of the check out when the inevitable happens: you guessed right, the bar code on one of the packets(wanted item) you have picked up don’t scan, nor is it readable enough to be typed in manually. Frantic call to a help(if he or she is around) to verify the pricing is met with condescending glares and eventually you decide to let go of that item of purchase. Sure we are getting hyper about it but isn’t it time these hypermarket brands read the customer frustration code and raised the bar?
I will leave the baggage carousel at airports for another time where for the airlines it seems to be all about first come, last served. We all are a sucker for good experiences and waiting with bated breath to share it when you are the fortunate one. Brands should be looking at making the most of it.
There is a great opportunity for brands to differentiate, distinguish, delight. Till then, we want to believe our fall sorry call is important to them…