Small Business

Is the Customer Always Right?

By Steve Strauss

3 min read
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No, to respond to the adage The Customer Is Always Right, I don’t agree one hundred percent – the customer is not always right, but they sure are right a lot. I will say this: You ignore what your customers think at your own peril. 

Here’s an example: I have a pal who recently helped start a restaurant, a Jewish deli. I love this place — the food is fantastic, the space is open and new, it’s open late, all good things. 

But surprisingly, unlike other delis, there are no condiments on the tables: No mustard or ketchup. In many restaurants, that would be no big deal, but in a deli, it is a little curious. If you order a corned beef sandwich, either the restaurant puts the mustard on it for you or you have to ask your waiter bring some over. 

But surprisingly, unlike other delis, there are no condiments on the tables… 

Now, I understand this is a minor quibble, but it is enough of an issue that I have heard a few people complain about it. 

My pal and his business associates certainly have their reasons for doing business this way and I am sure those reasons make sense to them. 

Not to me. 

Ask Them What They Want, Give It to Them 

One of the best pieces of business advice I ever heard was: Ask them what they want then give them what they want. It’s so simple, so common-sensical, that it seems an almost too easy business success formula for freelancers and independent contractors alike. But too many of us miss that bullseye. 

Look, I understand we all have ways of doing business and we think we know our freelance business better than anyone, even more than a casual customer, maybe especially more than a casual customer. 

And often it is true. Of course you cannot just willy-nilly make changes to your business model based upon the complaints of a few customers here or there. The customer is not always right. You are the leader and it is your job to lead. I get that. 

But is not listening one of the attributes of a great leader? Leaders only lead when there is someone to follow, and if you are leading your customers along a path they have no desire to go down, then you really are no longer leading, are you? 

Being a Leader Starts with Listening to Your Customers 

Great leaders and solopreneurs alike know that sometimes, the best leaders follow. That is, they listen to their flock and change course accordingly. 

Dr. Martin Luther King was not in it alone, was savvy enough to push the envelope, but among his other gifts, he was also a great listener. He knew that to succeed, he had to hear what his constituency wanted, where they wanted to go, and then figure out how to get them there. 

So the question is — is the customer always right when you run a freelance business? No, of course not. But you have to listen to them and be willing to be wrong about your business. Lead them where you think they want to go, but if you are mistaken, listen to what the marketplace is telling you, take your licks, and head in a different direction. 

If they want mustard on the tables, either metaphorically or actually, then it is your job to put mustard on the tables!

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