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Evan Davis on... customers

Updated Thursday, 11th March 2010

Evan unpicks the old adage 'The customer is always right'

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Copyright The Open University

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They say the customer is always right. I don’t believe it for one minute. Statistically it would be surprising if customers were right more than about half the time, and anecdotally one can see that customers are often unreasonable. I watched a couple demanding an upgrade to the presidential suite in a hotel for some minor infraction on the part of the hotel over the booking and it was just plainly stupid to think the hotel could have given them such a big compensation for such a small mistake. So customers are not always right, and it’s a wonderful testament to business and its focus on the customer that so many companies maintain the pretence that the customer’s always right and try and bend over backwards indeed to give customers as much as they possibly can to that end.

But there’s one group of customers who particularly interest me; customers who have a kind of sense of entitlement, customers who think they can get more for the price that they’re paying for a product than that price will truly deliver. Customers who might go to an airline, for example, one that struggles to make money ever and say why aren’t you giving us more on the plane, why aren’t we getting more in-flight facilities, why don’t you have more staff looking after me on the ground, why are the queues for check-in so long?

These customers are often vocal, they’re middle class, they’re people who think that life delivers lots of things to them, and obviously they’re wrong. They’re plainly wrong, you don’t get what you want in life, sometimes you have to compromise such are the constraints that we all have to labour under. They’re wrong but they tell you something interesting and they give business an interesting lesson, and the lesson is in expectations management. A whole category of customers that are wrong are people who have simply taken delivery of a product in the belief that it’s going to be better than it is because their expectations are too high rather than the product being delivered being too low.

Now, whose fault is it if the expectations are too high? Of course it can be the customer’s, but it is a job for business as well not to oversell their product, not to give people the sense that they will deliver more than they’re going to deliver, and to give people an utterly realistic view of what they’re going to get. Where business does that the customer is 100% wrong to expect more, where business doesn’t do that, where business likes to suggest that you get the Rolls Royce service for the price of the Skoda then, well the customer may not be right but the customer at least will have a sense of feeling right on their side.

That’s my view, you can join the debate with the Open University.

 

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