Is the customer always right? or should you be stronger?

Is the customer always right? Now there is a big question that many answers. Obviously many clients know what they want and dependent on how strong their character will dictate the strength with which they try to assert their wishes.

But it’s strange that sometimes the one’s with the most assertive manner can actually be the one’s that know the least about things outside their own sphere. It stands to reason that if a manager is assertive in their own company rather than cooperative and allowing others to voice opinions they are least likely to be open to suggestions or listen to other peoples views.

Some might say that this is just an example of bad management, and who am I to disagree. All I do know is that in my working life I have come across what really could be best described as bullies several times. Their staff run in fear of them and they are used to getting their own way.

But when I’ve been brought in to lend my experience as a photographer I’m in a slightly different position. Yes I’m the supplier, and yes I want to achieve what the customer wants but not at the cost of ignoring my basic skill set. If I know something won’t work or is a bad idea it’s my place to say so. And if it’s something that I know is going to make me look bad or not work then it’s my place to stand up to the bully and say no.

On one occasion I was doing a government job and late in the afternoon I was asked if I could produce a large number of prints within a couple of hours. These days that would have probably been easy to arrange. But this was back in film days when to get prints done in less than 24 hours was 100% plus loading on the price plus in this case would have taken at least 6-7 hours.

After explaining this to the person put in charge of this purchase I next got a call from a minister demanding that the job be done quicker. The funny thing was the phrase “Don’t you know who I am?” was actually used! It gave me great delight to tell this “important” person that even if he was the Queen of Sheba the reality of the situation was that the job could not physically be done any quicker than the time already told to his subordinate.

As he continued to think that the louder he shouted at me the more likely he was to brow beat me into the impossible it gave me great delight to tell him the sooner he made his mind up as to whether he would accept 6-7 hours delay and got off the phone, the sooner the job would be started. Sometimes reality has to be stuck to. I’d much rather give a client a realistic estimate and then meet it than promise the moon and let them down. It’s not the way I do business.

I had another occasion where an event organiser whom I had negotiated work for a big event covering both photography and video suddenly went off script and wanted some VIPs shot with some celebrities done. Not a difficult job and something I was happy to do.

Unfortunately he then decided to impress his VIP clients by telling me exactly where I was going to shoot this shot. A location that would have required further lighting to achieve what I could hear he had in his minds eye when describing his ideas to his customer.

Now the difficulty arises here that the first thing I didn’t want to do was embarrass him in front of his client. The second thing was I was not going to attempt the shot he had in mind with the equipment I had to hand.

In a situation like this a quiet word was needed to explain that he could either keep his customer waiting with the VIPs while I got the equipment needed to do the shot requested or he could have the alternative I was suggesting which I knew would work with the equipment to hand. Again the bully in the person wasn’t used to someone saying no and thought by insisting I attempt what he requested I would buckle under.

But like most small businesses I have my reputation to consider – do I do a job that I know would be sub standard? Or do I stick to my principles? I’m afraid I stick to my principles. In this case doing it gently by starting to walk off saying I’d be back in about 10 minutes with the equipment neccessary. Needless to say that was not an option he wanted so we did it my way.

As an expert in your field I consider it important that I share my experience with my customer after all that is what they are paying for. It’s what I would expect from a supplier. If I make a stupid or bad choice in a purchasing decision I would expect the seller to advice me correctly. I would also respect further anyone that refused to sell me what I asked for because they believed it to be wrong.

Is the customer always right? No, actually they aren’t but they are more likely to be right more often if the professional advices them correctly.


By Brian Russell

Copyright May 2016