The customer is not always right

Posted by Afam Nnaji | 14 years ago | 4,171 times

Many of us grew up with this phrase, some of us due to our work environments are made to promote this even when we do not believe in it and many innocent workers have been thrown into the unemployment market due to this phrase that is so wrong and unfortunately being promoted by even big organizations like banks and retail outlets all over the country. Nobody can always be right.

The customer cannot and the service provider cannot. Agreed, many businesses are simply interested in the bottom line which is the money and regardless of how these funds come in there is no problem as long as they keep coming in.

I have been in business since 2003 and I believe I have had enough experiences in relating with clients in the 2 businesses I own and run (Just Web Services and Just Alternative Power). I will use some examples to demonstrate why the customer is not always right.

Web development

Over the years I have come to understand why many websites don’t do well in Nigeria based on my interactions with a lot of clients. Some of these clients actually came my way after having one, two or more failed attempts at developing websites or software for their businesses.

The average customer will provide very scanty information on what the real features he/she really wants in a web project. Once the project takes off the customer begins to bring to the table very serious issues that should have been brought to the table before cost implications were decided and considering the importance of the features you will immediately realize that these features were neither afterthoughts nor initially forgotten. No, they were deliberately left out in the discussions because the customer knew that they would cost money to implement.

The problem then arises if the service provider has received part payment and still has a balance to collect. The customer will insist on having all the features implemented (including the new ones that were never quoted for) before making available the balance while the service provider who may have been boxed into a corner would have the option of implementing features that would ordinarily incur additional costs at no cost or abandon the project (in essence, forgetting about his balance).

Either way there will be friction and unnecessary bad blood between the customer and the service provider.

Best approach:

For the web developer, written contracts should be adhered to and make it clear that you will abide by the terms of references in the contract. Also ask for 100% payment for web projects. Sounds difficult but works like magic especially if you can demonstrate to the customer that you have all it takes to web enable any business process.

For the customer, always state from the beginning all the features and functionality required in your web project. Bring up any issues you may have on time as doing so after payment is decided upon may most likely cause problems because some features may require programming and the time required to do this must be paid for.

Insist on seeing past projects and once you are convinced that the developer can deliver come clean with what you want to do.

Inverter backup systems

It seems to me that for every single successful inverter backup project you have two or three unsuccessful installations.

Again, the customer cannot be held responsible fully for the bad installations as I am aware that there are a lot of inverter dealers out there that don’t know how inverters work, have not used inverters, don’t understand battery bank sizing let alone being able to advice customers on what they need to enjoy reliable inverter backup for their homes and offices. That said, this piece is about the customers that are usually wrong but would be the first to remind the service provider that the customer is always right.

Customers are initially tempted to downplay the load they want to backup in inverter backup solutions thinking that once they get quotations based on a reduced load estimate (just to get a lower cost) everything will just pan out after the system is installed when they will unleash the full load they intended for the backup.

This line of thought has led to a lot of frustrations, disappointments and wasted investments because battery based backup systems will only deliver power based on the charge in the battery bank and nothing more. Put differently, a battery bank that would deliver 20hrs of backup with just 1 TV will deliver only 5hrs of backup with 4 TVs assuming same power rating. In this case who do you blame?

The easiest route would be to blame the service provider even when he may have done his/her calculations based on the information the customer provided. Still on inverter backup systems, I have had issues with customers who know very little about electricity, wiring systems, inverters etc trying to direct you on what to do while telling you that they are graduates of some universities and that they read electrical/electronics engineering.

Considering the fact that electricity is dangerous I usually do not waste time in telling them that they are indeed very wrong and I usually advice them to do some research to learn more because I will not risk the lives of customers just because I want to please a customer. In most cases when they must have realized their mistakes they tell me that the way I tried to correct them was not good and that I should understand that they are my customers and as such I should not be arguing with them.

Some will even threaten not to recommend other people to me and each time I hear this I will remind them that our contract really don’t cover recommendations as I am simply interested in providing reliable services that have been duly paid for. Further more, I make it clear to them that friendship is completely optional in any business relationship.

The customer demands reliable services or products that have been paid for while the service providers owe the customer the delivery of these reliable services and products.

Best approach:

For the service provider, always ask for a written list of appliances that the backup will support and insist on load separation to guarantee that only load designed for the system will be powered by the inverter. For the customer, always provide complete list of appliances and state the required backup time expected. Check references and contact them directly if need be to ensure that other customers are not having problems using solutions from the service provider.

Unjust firing of bank staff I have witnessed first hand, customers insulting bankers in the banking hall for no reasons, in the majority of the cases that I have witnessed, the customers actually based their insults on ignorance and/or lack of understanding of the issues they were interested in. Sometimes I am forced to intervene and point out to the customer where he/she may be missing the point.

Even apologies to the bank staff cannot be enough to erase the pain felt for the simple fact that someone was raining abuses and curses for no reasons at all and because the bank believes that the customer is always right the banker cannot do anything. Recently two people were fired in one of the most visible banks in Nigeria because the bank believes that the customer is always right and this particular incident is most unfortunate.

Gist has it that a customer of the bank made a transaction that was supposed to enable his family (living in another state) access funds but for some reasons the funds could not be accessed and for good reasons the customer went to the bank to find out why. He first met the CSO of the branch who was on the phone and because he couldn’t wait (probably felt that the phone should have been dropped regardless of the issues being discussed) and went to talk to a cashier who asked the customer to point out who received the payment so as to be able to figure out what may have gone wrong since it was not a regular deposit. Not satisfied he went to see the ranking officer in the branch who resolved the problem.

Now, this customer sent an email to the CEO of the bank and expressed his dissatisfaction with the responses he got from the CSO and the cashier. Without any investigation and of course without giving the CSO and the cashier any opportunity to tell their stories top executives decided that the best course of action was to fire the two workers and as I write this piece these two people have been fired because someone knew someone that had the power to hire and fire at will.

Let us all remember that the customer, those that recommended sack without investigation and the CEO of the bank may have children and similar fate may befall them where ever they may be right now or in the future because we will surely reap whatever we sow if not now then certainly later. Maybe poverty is rampant in the country, maybe we try to please people even when it is impossible to please everyone, maybe we are desperate to keep our jobs or maybe we simply accept policies or even make them even when we do not believe in them or understand them. There are a lot of maybes but the fact remains that the customer is not always right and there are countless experiences and incidents to support this position.

Many businesses have crumbled trying to please everyone. Professionalism is almost non existent in Nigeria today because those who are ready to accept insults or lick boots would not mind doing so as long as they see the money.

Where is the job satisfaction? What about integrity, credibility, dignity? Have we so freely forgotten about these things just for naira and kobo? For those still in business and especially those going into business I want you to remember this; the most successful businesses in the world today actually place emphasis on the quality of products and services they render and in most cases you never get to even have direct contact with them.

They understand that the reliability of their products (in the midst of fierce competition and increasing sophistication of customers) will ultimately determine whether they will remain in business or not. Always remember that the customer is only paying you for your services or products because the customer needs the products or services.

Nobody will pay you because he/she likes your face otherwise the person could as well forget about the product or service and give you the cash just to prove that he/she really likes you.

All you need to do is to maintain the highest level of professional integrity and trust me serious customers will find you and when they do they will never give you stress neither will they insult you because they will be more interested in the products and services you may be delivering.

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