Your customer is NOT always right, so here’s what to do about it.

An innocent lawyer and an angry client blaming him

Your customer is not always right

I guess you have subscribed to the mantra that we professionals are all meant to follow…

The customer is always right!

If you do then you’d be wrong!

We all have finite resources. There are some customers whose unreasonable requests can gnaw away at your soul. These guys steal so much of your resource that you end mistreating your more meaningful clients and that is simply not good.

Unreasonable customers then are NOT always right.

So what should you do… let me tell you:

What you should do if your customer is unreasonable

In a kind of reverse version of the Apprentice, Tim Ferriss describes in his book The 4 hour work week how he optimised his finite resources by focusing on his best clients and firing the bad ones.

I’d suggest that you do too.

What to do if your customer is reasonable but unsupportive of your innovation

Having done that you are left with a set of reasonable people that you can work with. However even these folks present problems to innovators too.

You see as a developers of innovative products, it is unlikely that you will find a customer simply asking you for an innovation straight out.

According to Guy Kawasaki, when he and his team behind the original Apple Mac asked its customers what they wanted, they universally asked for faster MS-DOS computers. Almost mirroring Henry Ford’s quote about his 19th century consumer testers wanting only “faster horses”.

In my (much smaller) experiences of making video games interviews from players would always smack of the last game that they played with usually a twist in a storyline.

Ford went on to ignore his customers and produced the Model T and the business still exists today.

If Guy had assumed his customers  were right then Apple wouldn’t be earning the revenues equivalent to small countries today.

And if I’d have listened to my customers then you would well… (er hum) you may not have seen a few Nintendo games on sale. (We all have to make a living).

So as creators of innovative products how the heck can you satisfy your customer demands when they are not really asking us for the right thing?

As a great innovator you need to go beyond what the customer asks for and anticipate their un-articulated desires. This involves a careful combination of listening, experiencing and frankly plain guessing.

Professor Bill Meade of the University of Missouri explains the dilemma is found between two factors: Your understanding of the uses of your product and your ability to articulate the needs that the customer can’t currently explain.

The strategy you use to approach your research for this idea comes down to the level of uncertainty about the idea you have. The more certain the proposition the more likely the customer is going to understand it, in which case listen. Conversely the more uncertain your proposition the more you are going to have to plain guess.

I say guess, but what I really mean is to iterate using Agile or Lean Methodology.

It is important to remember that you are not your customer. Also your customer is (or is going to be) paying for you to innovate.

Because your customer does not know all and you do, you will have to educate them along the way. However, you should be humble enough to engage with co-creating experience with your customer. Its a tricky balancing act.

Remember that the customers you have filtered are likely to be investing in you as a person first. If a customer trusts you they are more likely to invest in your guesswork.

Gaining this trust is part of the act of selling. This is something for another post.
If you manage to gain this trust, then customer will think YOU are always right.


I hope you find this article interesting, check out my ebook,  Innovation Muscle. Its a short sharp read as to how you and your team can innovate fresh powerful ideas. Using these processes you will be able to create ideas that punch above their weight.

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Anyone purchasing the book will receive not one, but TWO FREE mini e-books that are supplied directly as PDF files to your inbox. These can be distributed to you team when starting a new project or used simply to sanity check your existing processes.


Photo licensed from Stock photo © Dangubic Image Stock photo © KatarzynaBialasiewicz

One thought on “Your customer is NOT always right, so here’s what to do about it.

  1. Admiring the time and energy you put into your blog and detailed information you provide. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed material. Wonderful read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.|

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