3 Ways to Implement “The Customer Isn’t Always Right” Strategy


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The customer is not always right. Yes; this approach for winning with the customer flips the age-old expression on its head. But I assure you it’s the only way to manage a customer service team as it’s allowed my department to deliver exceptionally high time-to-value and adoption rates, which of course are critical to customers gaining a return on investment with our technology. That leads to happy customers, resulting in renewals, referrals and a healthy bottom line. To apply the same strategy in your department, follow these three guiding principles.

You must listen, not charm

Customer service is not about telling the customer only what they want to hear and charming your way in. It’s a joint relationship that must be built on trust. You create that bond through listening, hard work and transparency. If these foundational tenets aren’t in place, you shouldn’t expect the client to listen to you or to continue purchasing your solutions.

Gaining trust begins at the onset of the relationship. Gather all the insights about the customer you can: ask questions, study the data and ask more questions. It’s not the time to sell your company. This information will allow you to deliver precisely what they want, subsequently forming the first layer of trust. Then, you and your team must put in the hard work to continue to do what you promised at the various touchpoints of the customer lifecycle. And when something goes wrong (as it certainly will!), be transparent. Under no circumstances should you hide the truth. Fix the issue and, most importantly, ensure you never repeat the same mistakes again.

Show empathy but be resolute

Just as you shouldn’t charm the customer with impossible promises, you also shouldn’t steer off course solely to make him/her happy. You are in the driver’s seat, and you must guide the relationship, not the other way around. To do this, revert to principle one – build trust – and most importantly, show empathy as you work with them to find the best solution (which is based on best practices, not their every wish).

With this trusted relationship in check, you must not only ensure a customer engagement model is in place, but also that your team is disciplined about following and tracking with it. (How many of you are guilty of having one in concept but not practice?) Since you already reviewed this document with the client, feel empowered to steer them in this agreed-upon direction. If they want to take a hard left turn, put on the brakes. Be professional – and again, empathetic – but point them back to the customer success plan. They may object and they may be displeased but if you have established yourself as a credible partner who they trust, they should be understanding. Remember; you are the expert, and your business has mapped the plan as such for a reason. If you accommodate every customer’s one-off request, all you will do is create a chaotic environment and a situation where your organization can’t deliver. There is one exception: if there is a business-critical, unplanned change, such as a merger or acquisition, you will need to change the course of action.

Put the onus on yourself to problem-solve

I coach my team to embrace a customer-first mentality. That means we regularly ask customers about their pain points and challenges via open-ended questions. We listen. We study data. It’s then our responsibility, leveraging our expertise and best practices, to lead and guide them. In fact, 73% of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations whereas only 51% report that companies do indeed understand, according to Salesforce Research. Asking the client for the solution is like asking your boss how to do your job. You should and do have that knowledge and expertise. Otherwise, you remove several notches of your customers’ trust in you.

Listen to understand, not to say something back in return

In closing, as long as you’re buttoned up and know your solutions and processes backwards and forwards, have the confidence to know you are right, not the customer. That doesn’t mean you don’t listen to the customer. Quite the opposite – it’s imperative you listen well and listen often, which will allow you to do all the right things for the customer. With this approach, I promise customer success will abound.

Kim Friedrich
Kim Friedrich is the Vice President of Customer Services, Americas at Basware. She is a client-first executive with two decades of success in managing complex implementations and cultivating strong partnerships with customers. Her career has been built on finding win-win solutions for customers and building strong teams.


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