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The Customer Isn’t Always Right

Some years ago, I read an article about US-based, Southwest Airlines (SWA), where the operating rule is, “People should be treated with respect, especially the employees. That means the customer isn’t always right.”  

At Southwest Airlines customers who treat employees rudely or don’t like the service that Southwest provides, are asked to take their business elsewhere. Southwest Airlines’ employees are clearly its biggest asset. SWA has the US airline industries’ most productive workforce, the lowest employee turnover rate, and perhaps surprisingly, the industries’ lowest customer complaints statistics. SWA is the only U.S. airline to have made a profit every year since 1973.

I have clients who tell me that some of their customers are difficult, rude and are never satisfied no matter what their company does to fix their complaints. I tell these clients that they must be willing to waste some of their clients or life will be miserable and their company will suffer. Some people can only be nasty and they take great pleasure when something is not quite right. It gives them something complain about. Fortunately, such people are a minority. Avoid them. 

I wrote my own company policy (below) covering this point, taking the positive slant by describing which clients to seek. Applying this policy has had a fantastic effect on our company and upon the people who work here. I recommend you write down a description of your own ‘Ideal Client’. If you do this, I assure you that you will see more ideal ones and fewer undesirable ones. You and your staff will enjoy happier days at work, income will increase and your company will find it easier to grow. 

Organisation Technology Policy of 22/11/2007 – “The Ideal Client”

Note: the following is a guide. Many suitable customers will not meet all the following requirements. However, some points are mandatory, you should be able to recognise those. 

Our Ideal Client is a business:

– With annual sales of at least $5 million.

– Has more than 20 employees.

– Produces a real product or service that has real value. Companies with a product focus are best such as manufacturing, engineering, trades and sales. In these industries, the owners and managers usually seek to deliver real, valuable products not just promises or speculation. 

– Is a privately-owned business (not listed on the stock market). With listed companies, it is often tough to find who is in control, if anyone, and therefore whom to talk to.

– With a clear leader or is run by a small group of easily approachable ‘leaders’ (no more than three).

– Is not a “democratic” organisation where all decisions must be “put to the vote”. 

– Is doing well, not struggling.

– Is affluent and has spare cash to spend on our services. 

– It is expanding rapidly but has outgrown its systems and organisation. 

– Its managers are literate enough and educated enough to appreciate the need for a systematised approach to management.

– Its managers have a basic idea of the need for organisation, written procedures and planning. They do have a reasonably correct idea of the complete ideal scene for a successful business. 

– Its managers know that the roles of a manager and an employee are different and can see the need for specialised roles. They do not consider that the ideal is for everybody to be able, willing and doing anything and everything. Multi-skilling is not taken to an extreme.

– Its managers do not have a completely fixed-idea about the subject of management such as a fixed idea that anyone employed should be instantly capable of doing their job and producing with little or no training. Or consider that spoken orders are all that is needed for perfect compliance. 

– Its managers are ethical.

– Its company delivers a valuable, ethical product. 

– Employees in the company are cared for and considered a very valuable part of the company.

– Its managers are motivated by desirable purposes and solely interested in making money.

– Its managers are willing to learn and do seek further education through seminars, books, and courses.

– Its managers are not seminar junkies or book junkies but are methodical and alert to the value of the data they receive. They can differentiate the value of various data.

– Its managers are not “open-minded” about new data. They will truly listen, study and learn new data and attempt to apply it.

– Its managers appreciate help and recognise and reward it when given.

– Its managers are not fixed on accepting data only from “known authorities”. The managers do not pay too much attention to University degrees or association membership but place more value on the data presented by another and on the presenter’s past record of successful achievement. 

– Its managers become personally involved in any training or management consulting delivered to the company and do not expect that is only for the employees. 

– Its managers do not view the trainer or consultant as an “employee” or servant who will handle the problems for them while they remain uninvolved. Good clients take an active part in the process and drive it. They see the consultant as a peer and advisor, not as a worker.

Peter Simpson