The customer is always right…… wrong!

Why putting your customer on a ‘pedestal’ serves no-one

“I couldn’t say that to them”. “I know he was talking nonsense but I can’t challenge him”. How many times have I heard this type of language from delegates talking about their customer or boss; an internal customer? It constantly surprises me how often even experienced salespeople dis-empower themselves when it comes to their key customers. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, false statements or blatant contradictions, they just get left hanging there; dangling with the powerful potential to unravel deals that are in the interests of both parties.

It’s just Fake News….

We see powerful figures getting away with ‘misspeaking’ (2019 for lying) constantly, so are we being trained not to challenge untruths? A few years back, during the Scottish independence referendum, the topic of borders creating different pricing on either side was raised. Businesses were stating that consumer goods pricing was very likely to be different on either side of a new border between Scotland and England. Alex Salmond, a key player on the independence side, stated firmly that national borders, with different political jurisdictions, didn’t create different pricing… and there was a journalist ready to pounce.

But no, she did nothing. Just let it go. She looked like she knew it was nonsense and he looked like he knew he could have been nailed on it. But no, just left hanging. Where was the probing question to challenge the obvious ‘misspeak’? The obvious and plain example of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic where prices are vastly different in most markets, was not mentioned.

The Age of Deference is Dead?

We’re more educated, less trusting of establishment and authority. We’re challenging doctors, lawyers, parents (save me!) ever more. The veil of secrecy that shielded authority figures from scrutiny is rapidly evaporating. The era of deference to unearned authority is over!

Or is it? If this is true, why do I see so many examples of sales-people showing over-deference to customers in the face of contradiction or opinion contrary to evidence? 

The Age of Conflict is Over…..

In Steven Pinker’s excellent book, ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’, he encouragingly sets out in example after example, geography after geography, how, on the whole, over time, human beings are ‘being’ so much more polite to each other than ever before by, for example, not plunging daggers into each other to settle who lives where. National conflict, murders, domestic violence etc, etc. However you wish to measure it, and contrary to popular belief, human conflict is happily diminishing.

Challenge doesn’t have to mean conflict. What you permit, you promote.

So, great news, we’re killing each other less and less. But have we stopped challenging openly because we mistakenly think this will lead to conflict and we are hard-wired to think that is bad.  Are we challenging but only later, after the human interaction is over, building up resentment and frustration? How many times have you come up with all the brilliant words you wish you’d said but never got to do it because you missed your chance? What you permit, you promote. Has an increasingly “I’m offended” society left us needing better skills to challenge…….respectfully and calmly, maintaining and growing relationships, not letting an ego destroy relationships and value. 

Think of this as a bad meal in a good restaurant. If you leave without saying anything, how are you really helping the restaurant to put it right? You’re actually saying it’s ok. Arguably, you’re encouraging it to continue, and it goes on. What you permit, you promote. Leaving your customer to make poor decisions, make poor deals based on poor information. How is that really doing the right thing by your customer? To challenge respectfully is as valuable a skill at home as it is in work, and it’s really valuable in front of customers.

Be more Columbo……

You may have seen him. The scruffy, shuffling, seemingly stupid but charming detective Columbo. He has a conversation with the villain asking seemingly obvious questions which the bad guy easily deflects and evades. Columbo is just about to leave and the bad guy is looking smug after brushing off the questions. With a hand on the door handle, Columbo turns back to face the suspect and with not a little humour, self-deprecation and good grace gives that famous line ‘just one more thing’….and then delivers the knockout blow. THE question. The question that spears into the heart of the issue and nails the villain. And it’s the question required for your customer. It’s the question that respectfully and forcefully challenges; getting the customer to think and reflect. Ultimately it’s the question that gives the best chance for your customer to do the right thing for themselves…..and build the respectful relationship. 

Be more Columbo…

Don’t permit what you don’t want. The customer isn’t always right. Be more Columbo and remove that pedestal.

Here’s some help with those questions in our How-To video.

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