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Is the customer always right?

Is the customer always right? It depends.

Are you watching Marvel’s Falcon & the Winter Soldier on Disney+? You should! I watch it as soon as I wake up on Friday mornings so I can make sure it’s not too inappropriate for my boys to watch. At least that’s what I tell Rachel. Really, it’s like every Friday morning is Christmas morning, and I shoot out of bed a little after 5:00am to race down and see what Santa Disney delivered this time.

Last week’s episode had a quick 2-second scene that became one of the biggest memes of 2021. One of Marvel’s greatest villains, Baron Zemo, has recently broken out of jail and lets off a little steam on the dance floor.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier: Release The Extended Zemo Dance - LRM
Two seconds. That’s all. And fans loved it.


But once the fans heard there was a lot more footage shot of Zemo dancing (I call it Doing the Zemo Fist Pump! It’s sweeping the nation.), there was a massive online movement to #ReleasetheZemoCut. And in only a few days, Disney and Marvel did just that. They released a ~25 second clip of Zemo doing so much more dancing. Fans rejoiced. Falcon & the Winter Soldier got a lot more impressions. And Thursday productivity dropped.


Sounds pretty crazy for a movie studio to release new footage like that just because fans demanded it, right? Well just last month HBO Max released Zack Snyder’s Justice League in response to three years of fans demanding Warner Bros. to #ReleasetheSnyderCut of Justice League. Was that move as financially successful as Warner Bros. hoped? Not exactly.


So that brings us to one big question that’s been debated for as long as money has been exchanged for products and services: Is the customer always right? Should we cater to every customer demand?


Yes. No. Maybe? I don’t know. Can you repeat the question?


Have you ever read Todd and Deb Duncan’s book, The 10 Golden Rules of Customer Service: The Story of the $6,000 Egg?  A friend shared it with me this week, and it’s an interesting read on customer service. The Duncans tell a story about an experience they had at a restaurant where they were regular customers. They asked if the restaurant would add a fried egg to their hamburger (and they were willing to pay for it). After back-and-forth with two servers and a manager, the restaurant simply refused to accommodate. The Duncans vowed to never return, estimating that they spent $6,000 annually at that restaurant.


The Duncans teach that customers have more choices today than ever and are in a position to make more demands that brands should cater to - all in the name of providing the right customer service.


So were the Duncans right? Well…’s complicated. 


On one hand, the cost of one egg to the restaurant was miniscule to the annual $6,000 that the Duncans estimated that they spend.


On the other hand, would it make sense for the restaurant to start catering to every other demand from every other customer once customers knew they would cater to those demands? A number of chefs will not change the makeup of their creation because it’s their creation. Some other chefs will.


Why would you want to cater to customer requests to change, or add on, to your service? Simple. Customer loyalty and a stronger brand and reputation.


Think of Nordstrom. Think of The Ritz Carlton. They’re strong brands built around customer service. Both (and many others) are known for catering to customer requests. But at some point I’d think that they would say “no” to some customer requests, right?


Now why would you not want to cater to customer requests? When is the customer wrong?


When you have limited resources
Every business has a finite amount of time and resources. And any extra actions taken toward catering to customers eats into both of those. If you cater to one customer’s request one time will that satisfy them or will they continue asking for more and more? Or will other customers get wind of this “one time” and know they can make demands as well? At some point, catering to customer demands will eat into your resources and may even affect your employees. Of course your business is there to meet your customers’ needs, but not at the detrimental expense of your resources and your people.


When the customer isn’t the expert
Who’s the expert over the experience you provide? You and your team members. You may find some customers who think they know more about you than you do. They don’t. You may have some customers who expect that your business should provide a service that it doesn’t. You may have some customers who don't follow the instructions on how to use your product or how to apply your service and then expect you to pay them for their mistakes. You shouldn’t. You need to remind your customers that you are the expert, and you’re here to help and guide them based on your expertise. Of course, you can help them understand that you’re the expert without being rude or condescending. 


When the customer isn’t the right customer
Remember, if you try to be everything to everyone you end up being nothing. You HAVE to narrow your brand down. Your goal isn’t to be relevant to everyone; your goal is clarity. So you need to clearly define exactly who your customer is (and sometimes who your customer isn’t). You’re not missing out on an opportunity by narrowing your focus. You’re creating one.

This week’s SIMPLE brand With Matt Lyles guest, Gigi Butler, did just that when she was designing the experience for Gigi’s Cupcakes.

“I knew I wanted soccer moms coming in to buy dozens of cupcakes at a time, so I decided to build the shop for speed, more like the Baskin-Robbins model than the Starbucks model. I’d have just enough minimal comfort for my guests to sit for a few minutes, eat something, and then be on their way. Although I love Starbucks, I didn’t want Gigi’s to be a place where people hung out all day and only spent a few bucks.”

Now if a customer wanted to sit around for a few hours while they ate one cupcake and sipped on coffee would Gigi let them? Likely. But would Gigi offer more comfortable seating and tables to stretch out if a few customers demanded it. No.


Now I like to think of myself as a brand experience expert. That means I have a lot of answers for you. But I don’t have every answer for you and your business.


So is your customer always right? I don’t have that answer for you. Only you can come to that answer. Just know that it’s not always black and white. And you have to intentionally define exactly when your customer is or isn’t right.

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