Should the customer always be right? Collaboration for Customer Satisfaction

Should the customer always be right? Collaboration for Customer Satisfaction

Jane Schuette, M.A.

Word Count: 893
Time to Read: 3-4 minutes

Everyone is in the business of sales, whether we are a contractor, vendor, retailer, or in human relations; we invariably at one time or another have been told that “the customer is always right.” However when considering the new economy, is this statement still true and should it continue to be our mantra in customer relations?

Having come from a long line of lumberyard storeowners, from my grandfather, father, and husband, the idea of customer satisfaction was one not to be taken lightly; it was survival. Many people in business still feel that pain, they not only want to be successful, but they also need to survive. However, nothing is as black and white as “I am the ‘seller’ and ‘the customer is always right.’” Furthermore, red flags go off when a submissive relationship is a mandate for success. Relationships without boundaries rarely spell success.

One favorite customer service story about boundaries is from a friend of mine who works for a small retail company. He was manning the front desk with a coworker who was working diligently at providing customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, at least to the customer, the colleague was failing miserably. As a heated interaction ensued, the CEO of the small company stopped for a visit. He paused for a moment, listened to the exchange, and then did something that surprised the company along with the customer; he quietly escorted the customer out of the store. As he did so, he explained that he did not allow his employees to be treated poorly by anyone, the rest of his staff, or the customers. Ten years later, the scene was repeated within the small company, only this time, my friend, now manager of the store, delivered the same news to a yet another customer that was rudely demanding customer service while insulting the associate.

At first glance one might think this was admirable for the merchant and deserving for the customer. While it certainly is, one can’t help but wonder if there couldn’t be a way where both the sides feel successful? Is it realistic to expect or even want a win/ win for both patron and seller? The lesson here is one of not only over-all respect, but also the need for a more powerful solution.

For the answer let’s look at brain research and human survival in earlier times. According to Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, to survive, early humans needed to collaborate. To contend with the large beasts of the land, early humans figured out that teamwork and cooperation were the answers to continued existence. In studying the Pilgrims’ first few years in America, we find that the celebration of Thanksgiving was due to their friendship with Squanto who taught them how to live in the new world; survival was due to forming a positive relationship on both sides.

Partnering is the answer not only for survival, but also for flourishing in the future. Dr. Medina states, “We learned to cooperate, which means creating a shared goal that takes into account your allies’ interests as well as your own. Of course, in order to understand your allies’ interests, you must be able to understand others’ motivations, including their reward and punishment systems. You need to know where their 'itch' is.” He further explains that the “relationship” between two people is key.

Simply stated, collaboration, the act of working together, is needed for success. Furthermore, we need to have a relationship which Encarta Dictionary defines as connection, behavior or feelings toward somebody else, and friendship. How do we do that?

Let me suggest four steps to sharpen collaborative and relationship skills:

  1. Check your mindset – are your customers “prey” to be captured or people with needs? Are you competing with team members or collaborating with them to provide success for your customer?        
  2. Listen, Listen, Listen – Did I say listen? Used to hearing about the importance of building the relationship, we take clients out to lunch, dinner, golfing, sporting events and whatever else we can think of to “build the relationship.” What is forgotten is that these events are providing opportunities to LISTEN, not providing opportunities to give our “sales pitch.” Most of the time, we pretend to listen when we are simply reloading our own thoughts to shoot into the next opening.        
  3. Be Mission Minded – Are you clear on the mission? And mission doesn’t mean the sales target for next quarter. What is your customers’ mission? Have you asked? What would you be doing differently if your mission were as simple as enabling your client to become a superstar?        
  4. Take care of yourself – Are you in a positive mental space that is enabling you to be a creative problem-solver with your client? Is this about you or about the client? Can it be about both? If the answer is yes, then you are entering the productive state of collaboration.

Collaboration plus relationship equals success. Are you a vendor or a partner? Are your clients your adversaries or friends? As Dr. Medina declares, do you know your clients’ “itch”? Do you know their interests, motivations, and passions? By collaborating with our customers, now our friends, together we offer this world something spectacular.



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