Is the client always right (subtitle: is money more important than manners?)

This week by way of a change, a real life workplace problem for you to get your teeth and business wisdom into.

“The customer is always right”. Or so said Barry Pain (1864-1928) the English journalist, poet and writer. But is he or she?

A situation arose recently at the offices of a business associate of mine. What happened was that one of the more junior members of the team was trying to help a client who wanted some information quite urgently as they were on their way to a meeting. This information wasn’t readily available, nor was it straightforward. Basically they were after media advice for a specialist role working in an Eastern European country.

Anyway, when the individual concerned failed to deliver said advice within a very tight timeframe the client went berserk and accused them of ‘failing him’. The telephone conversation ended rather abruptly with the berated person in question reduced to tears.

A senior colleague in the office who had heard the whole exchange decided that it was pretty poor behaviour by the client so informed the agency boss, who was out and about. He was told in no uncertain terms that the client in question had behaved like a (insert a rude word here) to one of their team. The not very cheerful reply came back that basically “he brings us in thousands of pounds every year. If the individual in question can’t cope with him then maybe they shouldn’t be working on that business”.

Does that seem fair to you? Is money more important than manners?

For what it’s worth, my opinion is this. Good manners and decent behaviour in business shouldn’t come at a price. There should be no excuse or scale of charge for rudeness and offhand behaviour just because you spend a lot of money somewhere. It still makes you obnoxious.

What I would have done had I been the boss in question would have been to phone the client up and ask if there was a problem, suggesting that the junior colleague in question was a bit worried that they had let the client down and that I just wanted to make sure everything was OK. Along the way I would have got the client to reiterate what it was they were after in terms of information and then perhaps suggested subtly that it was quite a complex request and as such would normally take a bit of time to come up with the appropriate solution. In short, I wouldn’t be rude to them in return, but maybe make them re-evaluate how they had behaved towards one of my staff.

What would you have done?

Views: 111

Comment by Dan Hunter on May 5, 2010 at 11:46am
Exactly what you would have done but if that was your bosses genuine response i'd start looking for a new job as he sounds mentally ill!
Comment by Alasdair Murray on May 5, 2010 at 11:58am
LOL it really didn't happen to me. I just shout at myself sometimes as I am a sole trader. I know the person in question though and his response was a little bit knee jerk and poorly thought through to say the least.
Comment by Dan Hunter on May 5, 2010 at 12:05pm
Yeah agreed! I think your idea of speaking to the client and gently nudging them is spot on, no one should be spoken to in that manner and most people when confronted will either wilt (as most bullies do) or apologise for being so awful in the first place.
Comment by Alasdair Murray on May 5, 2010 at 12:17pm
Reminds me of the client who asked me to attend an 8.30 am meeting with him at very little notice in a location miles away from where I lived. When I said it meant having to get up at 4 in the morning to make the meeting he said "life's a bitch isn't it" to which I replied "it may be a bitch, but I don't get out of bed for anyone at 4 in the morning". Reasonable behaviour is all I ask for. Do unto others etc.

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