Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Customer's Eternal Rightness

Chris Vaughan and I were discussing the Customer's Eternal Rightness.
It is a cliche that "The Customer is Always Right". People who've
worked with customers debate this. Chris and I had a boss, Jimmy
Whatley, who adapted this to say that "The Customer is not always
right, but he is always the customer."

I'd adapt the original expression to say that "The Customer is Always
Right, except about the price." That is, the customer is never wrong
when he expresses his desire for a product or service. But he doesn't
get to specify the price; he has to take the price that the vendor is
willing to take, and the vendor must take a price the customer is
willing to pay.

My firm has a client who often attempts to dictate the price. It's
tricky, because you really want to do what he asks. And he's perfectly
right to set the maximum price he's willing to pay: but sometimes it
takes more work to do a task than he's willing to pay for. And he's
welcome to do the work himself.

But of course, what if the Customer really wants something immoral?
Then the customer is not right to seek to purchase that. But he's only
a Customer if there's a vendor for the immoral product.

Now let's make it harder: what if the customer just wants something
stupid? E.g., suppose a customer asks me to make a major and risky
change on his network in the middle of the day when there's lots of
traffic. That's just dumb, and I can choose not to provide dumb, low-
quality service. But is the customer really right?

The customer is always right as long as he's requesting something
moral and reasonable and doesn't mention the price.