The Customer ISN’T Always Right

“The customer is always right!” You’ve probably heard this before -- either as a chirpy mantra from a people-pleasing business owner, or as an indignant argument from an angry customer.
But regardless of where you’ve heard it, it’s not true.
(Sorry, customers.)
There’s a scary trend of business owners bending over backwards to please their customers at all costs. You might be thinking, “What’s so scary about that? That’s just good customer service, right?” The problem is, as a business owner, you have a lot of power. If a customer complains, you can bend a rule here or break a policy there to make them happy. You can offer discounts and refunds and gifts and goodwill gestures. Heck, you can work for free out of the goodness of your heart, simply because you believe everyone deserves beautiful photos.
But those little concessions add up. At best, they’ll stress you out. At worst, they’ll eat away at your income. And when you’re burnt out or failing to make ends meet, you’re not really serving anyone. A daunting percentage of businesses don’t make it to the five-year mark. (Some stats say 50 percent, others say 90 percent; either way, it sucks.) If you want yours to survive, you need to create sustainable policies -- the kind that help your business grow rather than chipping away at its foundation. And “the customer is always right” isn’t a sustainable policy.
So when you have an unhappy customer (it happens, no matter how awesome you are!) here are a few questions to ask yourself before you give in.

1. Is the customer right?

This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to overlook it. You may think, “If I bend on this, they’ll be happy, and they’ll tell their friends how accommodating I was.” But this can come back to bite you -- your willingness to change your policy will likely reinforce their belief that it was a crappy policy in the first place. And they may spread the word to their friends, but do you really want to build a reputation as someone who gives in easily? If you want others to respect your policies, you need to respect them first. And when you believe the customer is always right, you’re not putting much faith in your own policies.
If they’re actually right, consider changing your policy across the board. If they’re wrong, stand firm.

2. Why am I giving this discount?

If a customer complains that your pricing is too high, are they right? Should you offer a discount so you don’t lose their business? The easy answer is no, for a few reasons.
  • An ideal client is someone within your target market who values your service, not someone who tells you to lower your prices.
  • You’re not playing with Monopoly money. When you offer a discount, you’re giving up real money, and missing out on the chance to book a full-price session.
  • It’s not fair to your other customers. If you offer a discount to the squeaky wheel, you’re essentially penalizing the people who truly value you. If you’re not comfortable offering a discount to all your clients, then it’s not a workable price point for you.

3. “If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to?”

Business coach Amy Ruppert posed this question in the Wall Street Journal last year, and it’s a simple and effective way to gauge whether you’re comfortable with any compromises you’re being asked to make. Here’s an example: Say you always present a mix of color and black-and-white images in your gallery. A customer calls and asks to see every image in both color and black-and-white. Before you agree (after all, it’s only an hour of editing!), ask yourself: What would I do if I found a free hour in the day? Would you read a book? Take your kids to the playground? Get a pedicure? Go for a walk? This is what you’re “saying no to.” Are you willing to give up that time in order to break your own policy? (Hint: Reply that you’d be happy to do it, and then let them know what the additional editing will cost.)

4. What will their satisfaction cost me?

Before you cave to a customer’s demands, ask yourself what it will truly cost you -- in goods, in time, in sanity, or in reputation. Those are all finite resources. Can you make them happy without making yourself miserable? Can you make them happy, period? Some customers simply can’t ever be satisfied; don’t expend so much energy trying to please them that you neglect your happy clients, or your sanity, or your bottom line.
Consider this alternative: Instead of spending time and money trying to win over a fickle customer, use it to thank a loyal client. You can knock $50 off a session because someone doesn’t want to pay full price, or you can surprise a longtime client with a framed gift print or mini album. Which would feel more rewarding?
Respect your customers. Provide the best images and best customer service you possibly can, but acknowledge that sometimes, you simply can’t control a customer’s opinion -- and that doesn’t mean they’re right and you’re wrong. Stand by your policies, and you’ll be able to serve your business and your customers better.
Need help communicating professionally with clients? The Studio Email Assistant has you covered on everything from how to handle price shoppers and habitual re-schedulers, to how to appropriately set the rules for smart studio policies.

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