Customer Is Not Always Right
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Customer Is Not Always Right

Q: I don't think the customer is always right. Do you? — Justin

A: No, the customer is not always right, but they sure are right a lot. I say, 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.

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.

Look, I understand we all have ways of doing business and we think we know our 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?

Great leaders and entrepreneurs 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, 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? 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!

Today's tip: Consider this great entrepreneurial organization: -- Kiva (www.kiva.org). Kiva helps the world's poorest people escape from poverty by giving them the funds and know-how necessary to become self-sustaining entrepreneurs. I think Dr. King would approve.

© 2010 Steven D. Strauss, America’s small business expert.”www.MrAllBiz.com