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The Customer Should Never Be “Right”

You could be doing something wrong if the customer is always right, says Sarah Spivey, managing director at Modulift.

I wrote a blog last December about customer service and the importance of building strong business relationships. Readers must have been in the holiday spirit as they seemingly nodded in collective agreement (that isn't always the case!). But acknowledging the facts is one thing; implementing a truly customer-centric strategy is quite another. So I wanted to revisit the subject with a sharpened pencil.

"The customer is always right," so the saying goes. It might be an opinion that initially appears at odds with the topic of this blog but I think the adage is misleading. It makes the supplier-customer relationship sound like it's based on disagreement. There's an underlying suggestion that a consumer and the provider of the product or solution see the world differently. Of course the respective parties are on other sides of the fence but it doesn't have to be a master-slave situation. 

When one is the recipient of a great customer experience, it doesn't make them feel "right". There are a myriad of other positive feelings that come first, whether they be happiness, contentment, a sense of value, respect, appreciation, or something else. I've never been in a restaurant, had my coat taken, been sat at a nice table with a view, been walked through a great specials menu, and sipped on a cocktail, and felt "right" or that the proprietor is somehow "wrong". 

The only time these two extremes have a place at the table is when the customer has a need to raise an issue. Keep fussy diners aside (those who complain about anything from the colour of the napkins to the height of the table), most of us won't draw a restaurant staff's attention to something unless we're genuinely unhappy about it. It usually takes poor service, the wrong order arriving at the table, a rare steak turning up like leather boots, or the wine tasting like vinegar. 

When the piece of meat is returned to the kitchen, the chef has no choice but to acknowledge that the customer was right; the meal was overcooked and they should be compensated accordingly. However, there would have been no need for the diner to raise the issue if more systems were in place, and attention paid, to ensuring the rib eye had been prepared as the customer requested. The blame could sit with the waiter, chef, kitchen staff, meat suppler, or another, but the restaurant manager must rectify the issue.

In doing so, she'd be wrong to put, "The customer is always right" at the top of her email; that would only acknowledge that in dealing with the problem her team acted with efficiency. Not that they deserve any gold stars; the alternative would have been to argue with the paying customer and create a scene. The focus instead should be on avoiding the same thing happening again. A short investigation should be able to identify the root cause of the problem and then a system can be put in place to ensure the next order for rib eye results in a glowing review on TripAdvisor. 

Food for thought 

Restaurants are good case studies to stick with when thinking about creating the ultimate customer experience because of their synergies with other places of business. The kitchen could be compared to a busy manufacturing workshop; the waiter a customer's main point of contact; plates of food a business's product; and so on. Happy diners place repeat business and tell their friends, just like a consumer would do in another sector. Like the leader of a manufacturing company, a restaurateur has to get each facet of the buying process right or a customer will be forced to haul their service into question. 

Have you ever been in a foreign town or city, perhaps on holiday or away on business, and you take a chance on a local restaurant you knew nothing about? You might also, therefore, have been in a situation where a waiter or restaurant manager sits your party down, almost reluctantly, maybe detecting an accent or that the group is from out of town. By contrast, five minutes later, another party comes in, this time from the apartments across the road, and they're greeted with a hug and a complimentary drink to start. It leaves a sour taste even before a morsel has been consumed. It's as though their business is more important than yours.

Most businesses can categorise their customers in groups. At one extreme might be those who buy lots and consume it regularly; they might even tip well. At the other end of the scale are the customers who place occasional or one off orders for a low commodity item. Both give rise to temptation. I've seen scenarios where a business owner has heaped overwhelming customer service on the regular customer and treated the other with contempt, while it's also been the case that the bigger client has been taken for granted, as though their custom is ad infinitum.

It's ignorant to think that a customer's status will remain the same. They could change their focus, relocate, expand, evolve, etc. Of course it's important to look after regular customers but not at the expense of others and certainly not when they're made to feel inferior. A good business values all types of customer equally. When the doorbell goes, the phone rings, a person approaches, or a diner is shown to a table, there shouldn't be drastic differences to the customer experience they receive. If one is familiar with a customer, use their name, but place the plate in front of the stranger with equal grace. 

Businesses have a tendency to be inwardly focused when strategising and planning. We've challenged staff here at Modulift to be more outward in their approach, particularly with customers in mind. As I said at the outset, that takes more than mindset. For example, when we receive a request for a quote, our engineering team has got to deliver it efficiently, complete with drawings within 48 hours. When a client already thinks they're receiving a good service and / or value for money, we have to strive to exceed even that level of customer experience. 

As is often the case, personnel is key, and we've recently recruited and restructured accordingly. Regular readers already know John Baker has stepped into a sales and marketing director role, while Sean Best, sales operations manager; Vidhya Subramani, design engineer; and Yogesh Gopal, design engineering manager, will be less familiar to most. We are also seeking an external sales executive and production administrator. To create the right impression in the marketplace, everyone—old staff and new—must keep to the same customer service standard. 

Now take a deep breath—trade show season is coming! There'll be more on that in next month's article. 

Sarah Spivey 

Managing Director Modulift

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