March 02 2024

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The customer isn’t always right.

We’ve all heard the phrase in any business we’ve ever been a part of, “The Customer Is Always Right”. But has anyone cared to look into where that came from and why we take it so seriously?

I’m a huge fan of old sayings, old songs, old jingles and anything I can google search in order to find out it’s meaning. As an example, the first time I heard “Head over heals in love” I thought to myself…”Isn’t our head already over our heals?” But back then, there was no google!

So I – like a loser – looked it up these days only to realized that in the 1300’s it was a term to express getting socked in the face, having your head be looking at the bottom of your feet. And then over the years being screwed up enough by hollywood, marketers and the music business that it started making no sense at all.

But isn’t that just how it goes? It’s the same for “The Customer Is Always Right”

In the early 1900’s Harry Gordon Selfridge of Selfridge’s Department Store in London came up with a rule book for his employees. This rule book was a small size and fit within a small pant pocket. In this rule book there were only two rules.

“Rule number one: the customer is always right. Rule number two: If the customer is wrong, please refer to rule number one.”

This was to tell his employees, “Don’t lose a customer at any cost!”. But in our type of business, especially today, our customers are world-wide and we have access to them all! If we screw up, there might be a few more we can find.

Little did Harry know, but this rule book would ruin creative minds around the globe. The rule still works today in retail, food, transpiration, and the complete service business. But it somehow came into the creative space with a vengeance, and never left!

Now I’m not saying you can’t treat the customer right, and hear them out. Please, don’t take this wrong. But when you create something from scratch, that you know in your gut is what is right for the customer/client. And you’ve done this type of work over and over…Trust me, they can be wrong.

So when it came to pitching to one of our clients in 2015 what the Post Embargo Packaging should feel like, look like, smell like…we hit the nail on the head. Working with Alan Rubin directly we came up with something perfect, timeless, and epic.

We took every single thought into consideration, we planned out how it would look across all platforms. We built out packaging and stressed how important it was to do things simple, look rough and edgy. We also released it at a trade show that year, with huge applause and great reviews. But when complications arose from the manufacturing and printing that could have been solved, it was a quick “We’re going in a different direction for this one, trust us”.

Now, we were upset…especially because this didn’t come from the top. So, what do we do? Should we have said “Well, the customer is always right!” and moved on to the next? Sadly, that wasn’t my first choice of words.

I explained why the client isn’t always right to the client (nice work Todd)…and let’s just say they didn’t come back with a “You’re right!” It was more like, “The price is wrong…”

Ouch.

But not every great idea will make it on the shelves. Not every client will agree that what we presented was as great as we thought. But, that doesn’t mean you were wrong. It’s been great to see the original artwork we designed finally hit the shelves this year. It’s still pretty epic, looks great and works great.

Sometimes the look and feel of something just clicks with the product you created it for. You know in your gut you’re right. But the client says “No thanks!”. Now they aren’t wrong really, and neither are you…but at the end of the day it’s more important to say the right thing than back down. Not so you can say “I told you so” but so your reputation of being any good at what you do stands the test of time.

Now, because the new design is out and about, and they finally did what we thought was right…will it be successful? That we don’t truly know, because it’s about doing the right thing in the right moment.

So our advice to client’s is you’re not always right, your agency actually might be. Our advice to the agency, if you know in your gut what you did for the client was right, at least fight for it. You may lose in the moment, but one day it could come back to surprise you.

A quote I lived by for years is “I’d rather be on the edge than in the middle”, and I still feel that way. Risk being right and loose people…because it will pay off over the years that you actually knew what you were talking about. Not for pride’s sake, but doing the best work for the people who give you money to do so.

Todd Neilson – Considerate Agency


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