But, what if the customer isn’t right? Since 1909 when Harry Gordon Selfridge first uttered the words, “The customer is always right,” businesspeople have followed his doctrine. But what if the customer isn’t right?

You’re working with a customer. You’ve done your homework, and you understand what they hope to achieve. You’ve asked a hundred open-ended questions, and you know what they need. Then when you’re ready to get the ball rolling, they tell you they want something else.

You know that “something else” is a mistake. It won’t meet their needs; it’s not cost-effective, practical, or may create customer service issues. The customer is wrong. How do you tell them?

What if the Customer Isn’t Right?

How to Tell a Customer They’re Wrong

  • Don’t make it personal

Never attack them. Instead of using personal pronouns, talk about the plan. Discuss the project, not the person. Remain objective.

  • Use your experience to teach them

State the facts, give evidence, and share insights. Lead them to the best choice.

  • Offer alternatives

Fine-tune their idea to make it work or include their thoughts in the initiative.

  • Blame misunderstanding on miscommunication

Use the opportunity to re-communicate what will best serve their needs.

  • Make it their idea

After explaining what they need and why seek their input, if their input is positive and receptive, establish a buy-in by agreeing with them.

  • Be direct, but kind not blunt, or combative

Rather than dwell on why the plan isn’t their best choice, talk about how the proposed plan fits their needs.

Telling your customer they’re wrong isn’t easy. I mean, ultimately, they pay the bills, don’t they? However, the alternative may cause more difficulties. Allowing a customer to make the wrong choice, which leads to an ineffective solution or worse, creates more problems than it solves and exposes you for precisely what you are—someone more concerned about the sale than the customer.

Be an Advisor

Advising your customer the best possible fit for their needs will establish you as a customer-centric consultant and form the basis for a long-term relationship.

If you’ve tried all the above and every way you know to lead the customer down the right path, yet they insist on doing it their way, then it may be time to part ways.

Not every customer is a good fit 

When a customer asks for something outside of your expertise, do you learn how to do what they want or send them to someone who knows how to do what they’re asking for?

I’ve done both. If it’s something close to my competency or something I’ve wanted to learn, I’ve taken on the task. If it’s a valued customer that needs my help and can’t find it anywhere else, I’ve done that as well. I’ve also told customers no. You must weigh the options.

The bottom line is to do what’s best for the customer, and you and that may be telling your customer no because the customer isn’t always right.

How Can I Help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

Does your business have a management training plan? Many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. Check it out.

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