Why believing the customer is always right loses you sales

Do you believe in the phrase the customer is always right? Don’t! Wake up! You have been dreaming. You have been misled. The truth is, he rarely is. The customer is not always right! The notion that he is, could be costing you sales, and worse, you (mis) leading him down the wrong path. Walk with me.

In sales, blind adherence to the customer’s every whim can spell disaster. For the customer, yes, but worse, for you the salesperson.  Because, when the worst comes to the worst, when the hairstyle looks ridiculous or the house burns down, the customer will blame you. “You did not tell me.” (It will not matter that he never asked, nor was willing to listen). There are many obvious (or should be anyway), and not so obvious instances, which could lead to the customer not being right.

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First, the obvious: if a customer requests a mechanic to bypass certain safety checks on their vehicle to save time and money, the mechanic should refuse. This is because it could endanger the customer and others on the road. Likewise, if a customer is verbally abusive to a waiter or cashier, the management has a responsibility to intervene and may even ask the customer to leave. Further, if a customer asks a pharmacist to provide prescription medication without a valid prescription, the pharmacist must refuse as it is illegal, unethical, and could be life threatening. And, if a customer purchases a budget smartphone and expects it to perform at the level of a premium model, the customer’s expectations are not aligned with the product’s specifications and capabilities. I’m sure you get the point.

Reasons why believing the customer is not always right loses sales

Now, some salespeople, unfortunately balk to customer, or worse, targets, pressure. “I know we don’t finance purchase of tuk-tuks but the client insisted and will pay back the loan.” (And I’m struggling to meet my targets). Or: The sale engineer gives in to this: “I want the same solar panel as my neighbour’s. We share a wall. I don’t need you coming over to inspect my wiring. Just install what he has.” In both instances, the sales person adds fuel to the perpetual friction that is the sales and back-office relationship. The bank or engineering firm cannot accommodate this and tell the salesperson so: “You lied to the customer; go deal with it.”

Now then. A customer is like a patient. When you go to the doctor, you complain of a pain. And the doctor explores: “Where do you feel it? When did it start? Is it localized or general? Does it hurt more at night or during the day?” and on and on. The patient never tells the doctor what his problem is because the patient doesn’t know it himself; what he knows is the symptom. But because medicine is a rarefied field, the doctor is seen as an authority; and because bodily pain is very personal, the patient is naturally subservient. Sadly, in selling, possibly thinking he will look foolish if he admits ignorance, the customer authoritatively presents his symptoms as the problem, and the hapless salesperson, bent on meeting his targets, swallows it hook, line and sinker, with detrimental results.

Customer is not always right

B2B Selling: Best answer for customer is always right

The examples shared in the foregoing, are largely from B2C sales. But believing customer is always right loses sales even in B2B selling. Take the bank that is seeking a software solution. They nominate someone (likely in IT) to go on a hunt for requirements from those (fellow colleagues) who will use the software, with a query like, “What would you like from the system?” And right there, the inaccuracy begins. KIla mwamba ngoma ngozi huvutia kwake, the Waswahili proverb says. (To make it taut, the drum maker pulls the skin in his direction).

Meaning, people will always do what suits them. And because there is no scientific method of collecting this data (and because the first reaction to change is resistance) the requirements are shared in the way the user sees fit for him specifically and not to the organisation in general.  Further, even the fellow from IT collecting the data is handicapped in his role. There is reason why research companies go to great lengths to train people on data collection and interviewing techniques. It’s a skill.

Moving on. All the requirements are then collated into must-haves and nice-to-haves. It is the unwise software company that is then given this brief to offer a solution, and jumps to dish it out. Because the problem was looked at through inexperienced eyes, knowledgeable IT firms will tell you that they do not take the requirements at face value. Like a doctor, they probe, prod and process it. Wiser ones go a step further and ensure that they position themselves to be the ones seeking the requirements. They have since learnt that what’s in it for the customer is not necessarily what’s good for him.

The customer is not always right, but the customer is King

The customer is not always right, but the customer is King. Because the purchase of the product was informed by a flawed prognosis, it is soon apparent that it was not the solution desired. And guess who is to blame? You guessed it! Mwamba ngoma huvutia kwake. The buyer will not admit fault, and blames the product: “The problem is this new software.” If the seller gets wind of this, he struggles to defend his position, looking to the terms of reference of the contract, for salvation, and the patchwork begins. This costs time, reputation and money. Soon enough, the unhappy customer is shopping elsewhere. Only this time, he (together with the new and wiser seller) having learnt from your mistake, address the problem – not the symptom, as you had.

What else to do besides a prognosis? Educate

It’s crucial to strike a balance between meeting customer needs and guiding them towards informed decisions. Indeed, educating the customer is one effective way of resolving this challenge. “Like houses, solar panels may look the same from outside but they are not identical inside. Your neighbour’s house may have a different wiring and energy load from yours. In my professional opinion as an engineer, I cannot, in good conscious, blindly install a panel without a prognosis of your electrical installation.”  And what if the customer insists: “But (your competitor) is willing to do so.” Respond: “I’m happy to hear that, and as the customer, ultimately, it is your decision to make how you want to proceed. Unfortunately, for me, I can only do so after a prognosis.”

Do not be surprised if he accedes to your stance; and, if he looks like he wants to but his wounded pride is limiting him, give him a dignified exit. “Tell you what. Could I come by this afternoon and do the prognosis and let you decide how to proceed? It’s free.” If he insists on being wrong, it is ok to refuse the sale. If your concerns pan out and the solar panel blows, expect him back.

Conclusion: believing customer is always right loses sales

Now then. The customer is always right except when they are wrong. So, next time, when with a customer, explore the symptoms he shares to establish cause. Help him make a purchase decision. You will find that there’s is not a training problem as they had emphatically stated; but instead, the company needs to tighten controls or sack specific errant elements in the sales team.  Having exposed this problem you will have forged a bond and served your purpose, which is problem identification, not just problem solving.

As a salesperson, it’s your responsibility to understand your product or service inside out and to educate your customers accordingly. Don’t just tell them what they want to hear; tell them what they need to know. By challenging misconceptions and steering customers towards solutions that truly benefit them, you not only safeguard your sales but also build trust and credibility. So, the next time you’re tempted to nod along with a misguided customer, remember: it’s okay to respectfully disagree and to lead with expertise and confidence. In the world of sales, empowerment lies in recognizing that the customer isn’t always right, but with the right guidance, they can make the right choices. The customer is not always right. But the customer remains king. Are you ready to challenge the status quo and elevate your sales game to new heights?

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