December 3, 2011

The Customer Is King by Richard Lowe

I'm sure you've all heard the expression, "the customer is
king". Some companies live by this rule - and those tend to do
very well. Others say the words but, well, they're just words.
These companies do not do as well. And other companies don't
have a clue. These companies might be huge, but they tend to
fall without warning. Many times the clueless companies turn
out to be made of paper - one ill wind is all it takes to cave
them in entirely.
I know you've run into those companies do not have a clue that
this datum even exists. These are the web hosting firms that do
not return support requests (and sometimes even requests for
quotations), free hosts which shut off accounts that have more
than a dozen page views and email providers who delete emails
with minimal notice.
These are the grocery stores with incredibly long lines, yet
there are registers closed and workers loafing. These are the
consulting firms that charge for every single thing (rounded up
to the hour, of course), yet never seem to be there when you
need them. And these are those that only allow returns within a
week, exchanges only, with receipt and a little begging thrown
Then there are those corporations which mouth the words, yet
seem to have misunderstandings on what they mean. This is the
huge company which creates licensing contracts which require an
advanced degree in law and an ancient Latin dictionary to
decipher. The massive, 184KB long privacy policy put out by
another company comes to mind. This also includes the auto maker
who refuses to acknowledge the placement of their gas tanks
kills people, and the tire maker who will not admit their tires
are unsafe.
And sometimes, very occasionally, you will run across a company
which knows exactly what it means to say "the customer is
king". This includes the most fantastic auto maker of them
all - Saturn. These people know how to run a company. I've
owned two Saturns, and both ran perfectly. The dealer fixed
problems under warranty on several occasions even though the
warranty had run out. When they took too long on a completion
estimate for service, they did the work for free. And on every
visit to the service department, they have given me soda and
snacks for free and went to great pains to ensure that I was
happy and satisfied. And you know what, I have bought two
Saturns and I know that my next car will be one as well.
I hired a consulting company recently to do quite a bit of
work for me. The project manager made it completely clear to
me that if I was unhappy about anything he would personally go
out of his way to fix, at his cost, what was wrong. He has come
through on several occasions, including refunding our money on
half a dozen occasions. The result: when I needed something
done I called them first.
I've been a programmer, designer, analyst, manager, VP and
director for various companies over the past twenty years.
I've always lived by this rule, and I've always demanded it
from vendors and companies with which I do business.
You always treat customers well. Good, paying customers are
like gold in the world, and you always treat them right. You
don't need to "take it" from them, you simply treat them with
respect. Treat your customers well.
When I managed a shop of 12 consultants we had a strict policy:
the customer must be happy with our work. If the customer is
unhappy, we would work for free or give the money back or come
to some agreement to make him happy. Sometimes, of course,
there were those customers who could never be happy with
anything - those we simply didn't do business with at all. The
customer must treat us with a measure of respect, after all,
but we always felt we were in the drivers seat.
This applies to the job as well. In my organization, my
"customers" are my users, the people who use the computers
which we support. We practice "the customer is king" all of
the time, every day of the week. If I get a call from a user on
a weekend at 2 am, I make sure he gets the help he needs. When
the CEO's laptop breaks, he gets a new one as fast as possible;
and when the receptionist needs a new program installed it's
done just as quickly.
I've written about this before, and one person wrote back, "In
my experience, kowtowing to clients or customers, bending to
their every whim no matter how ludicrous, and keeping a fake
smile plastered on your face while you utter 'Thank you sir!
May I have another?' is a sure-fire recipe for misery."
Ah, the poor fool simply does not understand. You don't
"kowtow". You provide service and give respect to your
But what about those abusive customers? The customer who is
never satisfied or demands his money back or whatever?
These are the exceptions. Most people are good, honest and
hard working. They want to do good, and they want a good
product or service. Most people are perfectly willing to pay
for value received, and most people do not make life difficult.
Those that do are exceptions to this rule. Most people are
good, not evil. So treat the vast majority as good, and treat
the exceptions appropriately. Remember, you don't have to
accept money from anyone, but once you do they are customers.
If you are a consultant, give the best value that you can,
then give a little more. If the customer is a complete jerk,
then don't do business with him at all. You don't have to
accept the money!
And that's what I've got to say about that.

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