Customers can be wrong

Is the customer ever wrong? That was a question that I posed to the wonderful Doug Shaw at the CIPD Conference in Social Media last year. I was being mischievous. Because the answer is, of course. Sometimes the customer IS wrong. Let me give you some examples.

I was out for dinner on Saturday night and when we went to order the waiter had a somewhat quizzical look in his eye. We were ordering from the menu, we were ordering perfectly good dishes, but he felt that there were better dishes on the menu that we could be eating. He recommended, we went with his recommendations and we had an amazing meal. For the record, that was Khan’s of Brixton….it doesn’t look much, but the food is amazing. ┬áThe thing was, he was trying to give us a better experience.

I’ve come across suppliers, in the past, who have turned work down because they didn’t feel it was their strong suit. I’ve complete respect for that. I’ve also come across suppliers who have tried to convince me that I wanted product A not product B. Not because product A was better, but because they couldn’t do product B. I’ve less respect for that.

I may have been wrong in both cases, but the honesty and the integrity of the supplier was the differentiating factor. And likewise, as an HR practitioner, sometimes you will come up against circumstances where the client or customer is wrong. They want to do one thing, you believe that another thing is right. If you have the best interests of the business and the client at heart, then you should feel free to challenge and free to try to guide them to a better solution. The old HR adage of, “I explain to them the risks and then I let them make the decision”, is an out dated, ill thought through, pile of steaming nonsense. That is not adding value in any shape or form.

Challenging a CEO, or senior manager, who has their mind set on one thing and influencing them to do something else is scary. It can be risky and in some organisations it can be dangerous. But be under no illusion, that it is right. Just choose how you approach it, choose how you do it and be prepared to be proved wrong. We all are sometimes.

Like suppliers, as an HR professional, you should be looking to build a long-term sustainable relationship. That means that a level of openness, honesty and challenge is always appropriate even if it isn’t always welcome. Customers aren’t always right, sometimes they need a little guidance. It can be hard work, it can be unforgiving, but it is one way to really add value to your business.

If you don’t believe me, watch this: