The Customer is not Always Right
By David Foster
Sr. Trainer/Consultant, Sales Training International

I was recently doing some training for the Town of Miami Lakes, a lovely community in South Florida. The focus of the training was customer service; how to help the town employees to be more responsive to the resident's needs. On the surface it seemed as though it would be significantly different from working with our typical business-to-business organizations, but I was wrong. While it turned out that there were many similarities, the one I want to focus on today is that the customer is not always right.

I don't know who came up with that saying. I do agree with the essence of what they meant, but not with the words they chose. The customer's needs are paramount in the sales process - that is the essence of what this saying means. But what happens if the customer says that they want model 'X' when your experience shows that Model 'X' won't work in their application, but Model 'Y' will. As a sales professional, it is your job to help them understand this and make the right choice. If 'Y' is more expensive and beyond their current budget? Help them see the long-term return and where the money is already allocated under a different name. If 'Y' is cheaper and will lower your commission? Sell them 'Y'. The benefit to your relationship will pay greater dividends over time.

Telling someone what they need to hear, rather than what they want to hear, is one of the cornerstones of being a professional. It may be that they are uneducated or inexperienced in this area. It may be that they have an irrational bond to a specific product, service or company. It may even be that they are crazy, which brings us back to the resident of Miami Lakes.

While talking about instances where residents were angry and needed a problem solved, I heard this story about an unnamed resident. It seems that she was very angry when she called. She had, and I quote, a female oak tree in her yard that was filled with black birds from Hialeah (a nearby town). She was demanding to know what the city was going to do about it. The person who answered the phone was so surprised by this call that they said the first thing that came to their mind: "How do you know the birds are from Hialeah?"

And this addresses our closing point. When the time comes that your customer is wrong and you need to tell them so, do it with a certain level of diplomacy. Even valid questions can seem confrontational. One suggestion is to use the following three steps. Support their right to believe whatever it is that they are saying. Use a transition sentence to redirect the conversation into an area where you can offer a better solution. Explore that better solution with appropriate questions so they can decide on the course that you want them to take.

For example: I can understand how those birds could be frustrating, too many noisy birds in one place annoys me too. Can you tell me what makes you think that they are from Hialeah?

Have a great week,
David J. Foster
Senior Trainer / Consultant

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