The Customer is Always Correct… in Working with You

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We have heard it over and over again, “The customer is always correct.” At the age of eleven I had a paper route[1] and was told that. I was puzzled then and even as an adult I wonder, what does that really mean? It has taken a while but let me tell you a little secret, it does not mean what you think it does. Customers are not always correct if it is to the detriment of your business. In fact there are plenty of times where it will suit your business to let go of a customer. Where you want to ensure the customer is always correct is in their decision to work with you. Some examples:

  • The likely apocryphal Nordstrom retailer story of the clothier taking an automobile tire back[2] when Nordstrom does not even sell tires. But the story works because people believe in the brand so much, they believe it is something the company would do. That’s an awesome win for a brand!
  • The Golden Rule, ”Whoever has the gold makes the rules.”[3] This is a reality for most businesses and seams reasonable, albeit sounds very unsympathetic toward the business.
  • From a pragmatic perspective, what is mutually beneficial should be the qualifier. This is how partnerships are formed between producers/suppliers and customers. Enhance the value exchange on both sides of the equation.

How to Deliver Customer Service

A company delivers customer service with all interactions and engagements that their customers experience, including the products themselves.

The stories of Steve Jobs not listening to customers are just false. Well maybe not all of them, but Steve definitely listened to some customers. Steve Blank has stated how he actually witnessed Steve Jobs observing Apple customers at the Palo Alto Apple store to understand their needs and buying habits.

There is a difference between providing customers something they needand providing customers something they did not know they needed. The latter is where Steve Jobs and Apple were so successful. Steve Jobs knew when to pull the trigger and which triggers to pull.

Figure: Apple[4] iPod advertisement

As an example, the iPhone would compete with the iPod if the iPhone were able to play music. Prior to the iPhone development Steve Jobs defended his position regarding an iPhone that can play music to the iPod team by stating, “If we do not cannibalize the iPod someone else will.” Steve was also aware that having the iPhone play music was in the customer’s best interest, and in the long run also in Apple’s best interest.

Enhance the Value Exchange

Businesses need to understand how to enhance the value exchange, which can be defined in many ways. One aspect of customer service is providing anything that increases the pleasure of your customers. Putting complexity into your products is usually a good way to frustrate customers and clearly would not increase the value exchange.

Your business will thrive if you provide simple non-frustrating to use quality products that work. You get there by lean methods.

Now for the last point and the most important point. The mechanics listed above will force focus on your customers not your competition. In fact, the CTO here at Persistent Systems recently wrote a very interesting column on understanding the nuances of customer needs and wants.

Be aware of your competition but if you focus on your competition you are a follower. If you focus on your customer and ensure they always see the value in working with you, then you are making, “The customer is always correct” an actuality.

Guess what? That actuality makes a lot of your businesses problems go away. So be courageous and focus on your customer’s as you change the world.

Image Credits: Tim Bertheau

[1] For those not sure what a paper route is, there was a time when the daily news was printed and had to be delivered to paying subscribers. The business model was to get young school age kids to deliver the daily papers for almost no money.



[4] Apple, Incorporated,

[5] Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur, Business Model Generation, John Wiley & Sons Incorporated, Hoboken, New Jersey, 2010.

[6] Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, The Startup Owners Manual The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company, K&H Ranch Press, Pescadero, California, 2012.

– Tim Bertheau


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