It’s over used and cliché, but surely you’ve heard the expression, “The customer is always right.”
Let me ask you though… do you believe it?
Do you abide by it?
At what point is the customer wrong?
More importantly: What are you willing to swallow to satisfy a client?
The other day I had a little “situation” where I was the customer, the client, and accidentally at fault. Yes, accidentally. I made a mistake, unintentionally, and I paid for it—and they lost a client.
Here’s the story:
Over the years running various businesses, I’ve used many printers, from local mom-and-pop print shops to large franchise services.
Over the past 5-6 years, per recommendation, I started using a new printer for a few of my print jobs.
I was happy with the work, especially when I needed something in a pinch. I’m that guy that sends something in and asks, “Is there any chance it can be done in the next hour?”…. Of course, I’m always willing to pay for rush service.
I was happy, things were flowing well, and the future seemed bright.
I was slowly sending a bit more business their way—until that fateful day when I was wrong.
I sent an email in for a quote, and got a reply promptly, something I always liked about them, they don’t mess around and are always “on the ball.”
The quote was for 200 coupons at roughly 2.5″ x 6″. I know, it’s not a massive order, a 32 dollar order, peanuts. I get that.
Quote looked great, sent it to the client, client was happy, so I sent in the artwork for printing. I got an email back saying there was a misquote and the price would spike to just shy of 200.
There was no mention of why, and I didn’t ask—my first mistake.
See, over the years, I built up a trust in this shop and just assumed they made an error with the first quote, and that’s okay, I make mistakes as well—especially spelling mistakes!
I gave the green thumb with the new quote, and a day or so later went in to pick it up.
When I got there, I was shocked to see the coupons were about 5 inches by 11 inches! They were massive and almost looked like it was all a big joke. I mean, part of me even thought it was funny, and had they been for me and not a client, it really would have been okay. But it wasn’t for me, and the client knew what they wanted.
Confused, I pulled out my phone and checked the email I sent in. Yep, it clearly said the 2.5” x 6” sizing I wanted.
Clearly, there was a mix-up, and that’s no big deal, it happens. While we tried to figure out the problem, they pulled up the file I sent in, and that’s when I realized that I was at fault.
I had sent the file larger than it needed to be. The file never got put into the right size, and they printed “as is.”
100% my mistake, albeit unintentional. I take full responsibility for that.
I—the customer—was WRONG.
Now, here’s where it gets fun… For those who don’t really “know me,” I’m not a confrontational kind of guy. If my burger is made wrong, I suck it up. If my fries are the wrong size, no biggie. If someone cuts me off, it’s okay, he’s got bigger problems than I have. I’m pretty easy going and I let it run like water off a duck.
Like the humorist H. L. Mencken wrote in response to a letter of criticism towards him:
I am sitting here in the smallest room in my house with your letter of criticism before me. Soon it will be behind me.
I wasn’t upset, I didn’t want to argue, and I just wanted to move forward.
In an attempt to hint that they, as a business, should take care of the problem, I awkwardly said, “Would you hate me if I didn’t take these and you guys reprinted them?” to which I was quickly told it’s too damn bad, they printed exactly what I sent, and it’s all my fault.
Okay, they used nicer language, but that’s all I heard.
Having no time or desire to argue, I said no problem, paid for the order, grabbed my life-size coupons and left—knowing full well the relationship was now over.
I made a mistake, I was 100% at fault, I—as the customer—was WRONG. And I wasn’t asking to be right, I simply wanted what I thought I ordered, and was willing to pay for that.
I’ve now paid for those giant coupons (which in the interest of full disclosure, were covered by the client), and I re-ordered them at another printers and I’ll be paying out of pocket for those.
Now, I know this all sounds childish, but it’s the principle of the matter.
As a business owner, you need to evaluate these types of situations on a case-by-case basis and decide, “Is this worth losing them for life?”
I have no clue what the markup on printing is, but let’s say it’s 50%. Would eating 100 bucks have been worth keeping me for years to come?
I’d think so.
But it goes further than just the dollar value.
As a consultant, I advise businesses for a living, and guess what? This story now becomes a prime example of what NOT to do. Of course, I respect them and would never divulge the name of the company because WHO doesn’t change the story’s point.
In fact, a few days later I was recounting this story to a friend of mine, and he quickly added a story of his own.
He recently enjoyed lunch at one of his local favorite spots, a restaurant he frequents several times a week all year long.
In the interest of time, he called his order in so it would be ready when he got there. Upon arrival, he was surprised to have a dish he hadn’t ordered served to him. He commented he didn’t order it, they insisted he did, and he sent it back regardless saying he did not want it.
Much to his surprise, the dish was not removed from his bill and he was asked to pay for it.
Now, let me ask you something: as a restaurant owner, what food cost are you willing swallow in order to keep a client for life?
I’m not sure if he’ll be removing them from his life completely, but he did mention that he’d be giving them a break—and that they would notice.
I’m sure we all have similar stories, with similar outcomes.
How often have you let trivial things affect the lifetime value of a client?
Maybe they knew my account was peanuts to them overall.
Maybe I’m too much hassle for them.
Maybe they didn’t have the authority to fix the problem.
Maybe they’re afraid I’ll take advantage of them from now on.
Maybe they thought, “who cares, he’ll still keep coming back because we’re right and he’s wrong.”
Those may all be true—but in a world of unlimited options, that’s not a “maybe” I’d want to dance with.
I remember a story by, if I recall correctly, Tim Ferris, where in the interest of reducing the amount of times his staff called him, he set a maximum dollar value that his staff was allowed to “bite the bullet” with. I believe it was 100 bucks. So if there were any type of problem with a client, the staff had the authority to negotiate with up to 100 dollars to make it right—even if the customer is wrong.
Your clients don’t just have one or two options anymore, they have dozens, heck hundreds. And they aren’t limited to their local market anymore. From ordering promotional items directly from overseas, to flying to another state to purchase a vehicle, to buying directly online, the playing field has been leveled and it’s a global marketplace. The buying options have multiplied many times over, but the amount of buyers hasn’t multiplied at the same pace.
At the end of the day, maybe I’m just ranting, maybe I’m onto something, maybe it’ll have no impact at all.
Regardless, these are questions YOU need to answer in your business.
Have you had a similar story? As a business owner, what do you do?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
To your success,
PS – I’m not naïve enough to think that nobody will take advantage of this. That’s part of life. Jesus had 12 disciples and even he couldn’t bat 100. You’re going to have bad ones in the bunch. Deciding who’s legit and who’s a scammer is all part of running a business.
CEO RYS Group
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