Who Says the Customer is ALWAYS Right?


Everyone at some time or another has worked on the service side of the business – trying to manage the client’s expectations while, many times, acquiescing to their demands, just to make them happy.

Smaller companies and start-ups, whose customers are everything to the business, cannot afford to leave any of their paying clients unhappy. But that does not mean being at the beck and call, or relenting to customer demands.

Working in the new media space, we find ourselves educating clients on the new best practices and the new way of marketing, many times to an audience akin to deer-in-headlights, who respond to our presentations with a hesitating nod and uncomfortable grin. They love the approach [or so they say]. They want to move ahead of their competitors and capitalize on opportunities, “So tell us what we need to do”, they say.

Customers buy from those they trust

Everyone goes through a decision-making process. They ask friends/family for recommendations. They go through the exercise of researching, comparing and contrasting prices and services detail. For B2B clients, they go through an RFP process, exhaustive meetings and legal due diligence and at the end of this process, they’re quite confident at the choice they’ve made.

The honeymoon period doesn’t last very long. The agency says all the right things. The client nods their head in agreement, excited to begin the process of developing this new program that has promise of reaping them amazing rewards!

Everything goes right until it goes wrong….

And that’s when the honeymoon ends.

When things go wrong, the customer is NEVER at fault

I recently read a post from my colleague, Amy Tobin, who had written a post for the restaurant industry. It’s here she stated:

The Customer is Always Right – one of the most cliched and repeated phrases in marketing. And frankly, I don’t believe it’s true. I know that in some circles it’s scandalous to say, but the reality is that, the customer is wrong, and ANYONE who has worked as a waitress or in the restaurant business probably knows this. There, running into an irate, expectant, obnoxious customer is part of the job… and understanding how to handle and diffuse the situation is also ‘part of that job.’

When things go wrong, someone needs to be blamed. The client will never take responsibility because they don’t have to. When a deliverable is late to market or when things go awry, this knee-jerk reaction to find the culprit always points the client in one direction: the onus is always on the agency to explain what has happened.

A friend, who founded a start-up explained this to me [paraphrased]:

An irate customer called me on the phone, and told me of a glitch in his system that caused some of the end-terminals to improperly process customer transactions. He indicated it was working perfectly before we had made changes to it. He asked us what we had done to cause the problem. I immediately apologized and said we’d look into it.

A few hours later, we realized that the customer, himself had changed a setting within the system that inadvertently defaulted the system to a prior setting. Since the code had been changed, the reset had resulted in the problem identified. When this was brought to the client’s attention, he remembered what he had done and apologized for the mishap. And all was well “again”.

So, we let bygones be bygones… but to the point of complete submission. All for the sake of protecting a revenue stream.

Are we all Yes-Men?

I read this post the other day from Entrepreneur, 30 Ways to Show Your Customers They’re Always Right: This primer on customer service will leave your clients happy and your business booming.

One particular area angered me. It read,

  • “I will take responsibility.”  Tell your customer you realize it’s your responsibility to ensure a satisfactory outcome to the transaction…
  • “I will deliver on time.” A due date that has been agreed upon is a promise that must be kept. “Close” doesn’t count.
  • “Monday means Monday.” The first week in July means the first week in July, even though it contains a national holiday. Your clients are waiting to hear you say “I deliver on time.” The supplier who consistently does so is a rarity and will be remembered.
  • “It’ll be just what you ordered.” It will not be “similar to,” and it will not be “better than” what was ordered. It will be exactly what was ordered. Even if you believe a substitute would be in the client’s best interests, that’s a topic for discussion, not something you decide on your own.

What follows is something more horrific, in my opinion:

Neglecting any of these steps conveys the impression that you were interested in the person only until the sale was made. This leaves the buyer feeling deceived and used, and creates ill will and negative advertising for your company.

Now, I’m not advocating for any company not to make those promises to clients. In potentially 80% of the cases, if all goes according to plan, an agency can deliver all those things. However, the reality is things will happen. Directions change in the process; strategies are diverted; decisions get delayed. And yes, many times, miscommunication can lead the agency to make unfortunate errors. But 100% of the time the blame cannot lie solely on the shoulders of the vendor.

When the agency has to come, yet again, to explain the mishap, they must do so without somehow alluding to some client-side mishap that led to the eventual outcome. This is a perpetual state of disrepute that many agencies find themselves in.

A friend, Sean McGinnis, recently shared a post that made me aware of one such situation that made me applaud, Chicago ad agency fires client Panera, calling company ‘difficult’.

CEO says Panera was a difficult client and “in the end, no amount of money makes it worthwhile”….

The memo cites “the constant last-minute shifts in direction, the behind-the-scenes politics, the enormous level of subjectivity that disregards proof of performance — all churn people at a rate that becomes much too much even in this crazy business.”

The “environment of inconsistency” at Panera Bread apparently drove the decision to walk away from a major client.

“That’s hard to do in this increasingly low-margin, high-churn business,” Krivkovich said. “Most agencies just suck it up and take it.”

The ultimate relationship comes back to trust

In my later years, I’ve become so much different than when I was a young account executive for a large Ad Agency. Back then we were trained to properly manage the client expectations. We needed to be one step ahead of the client at all times. If you’ve worked in agency, all contact reports, follow-up emails were necessary, all for the purpose of CYA documentation {ie Cover your Ass} and limiting agency liability.

However, I’ve also come to believe that clients come to you because of your expertise. You have something that no other agency has. People who hold the purse strings can easily blame the vendor because they have nothing to lose.

What changes the dynamics in the relationship between the client and the agency is a true understanding of the value that the chosen agency brings. Many times clients, who think they know better, will make decisions they feel are best for the business and decide to go in a different direction than what has been recommended.

While this may be true, clients may also feel pressured to perform and they can easily fall back into the tried-and-true. And many times this isn’t communicated.

The need for transparency between the customer and the agency

Where many of my relationships with clients have come to a head, we begin to have transparent discussions about the client’s anxieties, investor expectations, management pressures. When that happens, it opens the doors to having full context into their world, and what they are up against on a daily basis.

That’s the opportune time to have the conversation that addresses each of those issues – one by one – and giving the client a new-found confidence that you’re there to do everything in your power to give them the result possible. But it means a quid-pro-quo:

  • Identify the issues when they happen. This allows both sides to give each other the heads up before situations get worse. For better or worse, the investment in this relationship means that both sides need to work together to produce a better outcome.
  • Educate the client. In many cases, the best way to get a program approved is to take the client through a learning curve and teach them what you know. They, in turn, will advocate the program internally.
  • Insider scoop. Until there is trust between customer and agency, will the former keep the agency at bay. But once this has been built, it’s incumbent upon the customer to provide as much ‘necessary’ information to help he agency succeed. This has happened in our favour countless times, and we were able to over-deliver on client expectations time and time again. In the end, the client looks like a hero internally.

In the end is a true understanding that doesn’t leave two parties on opposite sides of a fence. In the end, the customer does not feel the need to continuously test the agency. In the end this ‘relationship’ puts both on an equal playing field that allows each to do their job without feeling the anxiety or mistrust that befalls many of the client/agency relationships today.

Photo source: Flicker: Beltzner

This article was originally posted on Steamfeed

Sir Robert Peel’s Social Media Principles of Modern Policing #SMDAY

Great stuff from my friend Tim Burrows, who understands how to leverage social media to bridge the gap between police services and the the public.

Walking the Social Media Beat

Mashable Social Media Day 2014

To honor the 5th Mashable Social Media Day, I thought it would be fun to re-write Sir Robert Peel‘s,  “Peel’s Principles of Modern Policing” with a social media focus. Enjoy.

Social Peelian Principle 1

The primary objective for policing efforts through their social media presence must be that of educating and informing the public to assist them in protecting themselves from becoming victims of crime and avoiding conflict.

Social Peelian Principle 2

Police use of social media must at all times consider the public perception of their activities first ensuring those activities are never used to embarrass, humiliate or belittle the public.

Social Peelian Principle 3 

Police use of social media must convey their presence in the best interest of their community with the end user value placed as the paramount reason for posting information.

Social Peelian Principle 4

Using social media as a threat to…

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The Perpetual Lie: When your Online Persona Precedes the Real You


I believe all humans were created with a reasonable sense of integrity. We are on this earth to do good, right? But along the way, we were misguided. Our egos got the better of us and we lost our way.

The real life that we lead can be easily masked, however. We have the haven of online to safeguard who we really are.

Integrity and Fakery: Are Some People Invincible?

I’ve witnessed this on more than one occasion. In my specific circumstance, I have followed people online who seemed reputable, who had the perception of being the epitome of integrity.

I felt honoured to be in the company of such people, who have built a loyal following because of their magnetic words of wisdom, how inspirational they are, as well as through the hypnotic, emotion-laden stories they share.

I, too, have been taken in by these masters.

One person in particular, in my eyes, could do no wrong. When we connected, I felt lucky she made the time to talk. She had been on a pedestal in my mind for many years, as well as in the minds of her many loyal followers. This gal had integrity!

But the community wasn’t privy to the relationship that I was building with this amazing person. No, this wasn’t a Jim Jones cult (although it does eerily feel like I was programmed).

I brought this person into my life and we became fast friends. It took some time, but I started really figuring out this individual. The persona that had been so carefully crafted was slowly crumbling before my eyes. She didn’t reveal herself readily, but nuances of the real person came out.

The person who she claimed to be — the persona the world knew — wasn’t the person who sat before me. She was a sham. She was a hypocrite. And I had been fooled. Shame on me.

Reputation is Absolutely Everything

We carefully shape the way we want to be perceived. There are those among us who are calculated in the way they approach situations and people, always mindful of how others will react, and how they will be judged.

When I met people who know (knew) of my affiliation, they couldn’t believe how “lucky” I was to be in the company of such a great individual. How little they know. And how desperately I wanted to shout, “You have no idea!”

In real life, we falter. My mother says all she has to do is look into my eyes to see the window to my soul, and when she does, I know I’ve been found out. I can’t hide the truth. My actions speak louder than words.

Online, Somehow, Seems So Much Safer

For those who have built their reputation online and have carefully honed it to perfection, the online space is a safe haven. The words on their blogs hide their true selves.

Words can easily manipulate and influence the human spirit. We cannot see the eyes of deceit as these words are carefully crafted on the keyboard.

And so we continue to believe the lie.

However, this “keyboard” that unites individuals across the social space cannot – and will not – ever be substituted for face-to-face contact.+

I’ve come to believe that.

Hypocrisy is Perpetuated by the Community

When I opened my eyes to the truth, it didn’t seem real that I, alone, could have discovered this false integrity.+

The reality is, there are so many instances of people portraying false personas of themselves.

They continue to walk among us. We can easily point them out. But we don’t. I wonder why.

And there are many naive individuals who buy into these falsehoods.

They follow in droves and they are the very ones to come to the defence of these manipulators again and again – because they’ve been programmed.

Perhaps Online is the ONLY Place to Hide

I’ve come to believe that those who exist mainly online, are there for a reason.

The fairy tale they’ve built around them is enough to properly shield them from the reality of who they actually are.

If there is disparity between who you are online and offline then there is something very wrong.

As much as I believe in transparency, I also believe we do not have to fully disclose every part of our being to the world.+

But, at the very least, have some integrity. Be true to who you really are.

I’ve become more pragmatic these days. I live online but I also have a balanced and healthy life outside of the Internet.

It’s what keeps me real and keeps me grounded.

These days, I’m not as easily fooled by gurus and online pundits. Because sadly, I’ve learned the hard way to be more judgmental of my online relationships.

I’ve come to believe in the value of meeting people in person. And the value of a gut check. It tends to go a long way towards revealing the truth.

This article was originally posted on SpinSucks.com

photo credit: Rickydavid via photopin cc

I Fear for Generation Next: Climate Change, World Debt & Rising Health Care Costs


The next generation doesn’t have it easy. The world is changing…and rapidly. What we’re about to experience globally is nothing like we’ve experienced in the last century. Enormous shifts are happening that will instigate fundamental changes to policy, jobs and technology.

The freedom that previous generations have had to build and to innovate will become lost to the future decision makers. Instead, the next generation will be overwhelmed with responding to the growing issues that are creeping to the forefront today:

  • Impending world economic crises
  • Effects of global warming
  • Impact of an aging population

This Generation is to Blame

I write this post not as a pundit who understands the intricacies of these issues and their implications, because clearly I do not have this benefit, but as a parent, who has seen my own generation and previous generations contribute to many of these unfortunate events and is saddened by what it means for my children. I write as a consumer who has seen decades of recklessness and irresponsibility and have done little to affect this.

I write as a bystander who heard the message of the real dangers we were to face in this lifetime, and witnessed as we reluctantly relented to change. We dragged our heels, albeit in the right direction. This older generation is to blame for the impending fallout not only because of our contributions but also because we weren’t doing enough to mitigate the negative effects. We are to blame because we were too selfish to recognize that while the fallout of 80 years later would not impact us, it would impact our children and grand-children.

And now that responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of this next generation.

I read this post recently: “Map – These are the Cities that Climate Change will Hit First.” It spoke of Climate Departure, the first time when…

the moment when average temperatures, either in a specific location or worldwide, become so impacted by climate change that the old climate is left behind. It’s a sort of tipping point.

The map shows the earliest instance of Climate Departure will be in 2023. Cities like Kingston, Jamaica, and many bordering Caribbean countries will experience this earlier than most. Other affected regions include Lagos and other countries in Western Africa. However, larger centres like Singapore, parts of India and China are not that far behind.

Those countries that are going to be affected by this unprecedented climate are also those deemed “that have the least capacity to respond”. Lagos, is the largest African city of 21 million and currently prone to excessive flooding. Climate departure will hit Lagos by 2029.

Experts predict that (under the current greenhouse emission levels) most of the world’s population will feel the effects of Climate departure by 2047.

Species will be forced to adapt, move or die out

It may not be the end of the world but this radical shift means that the world as we know it will experience a massive upheaval. As Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science’s global ecology department has put it:

….we are pushing the ecosystems of the world out of the environment in which they evolved into wholly new conditions that they may not be able to cope with. Extinctions are likely to result.

The effect on the species raises much graver concerns: the risk on our food and water supply; the potential of wider spread of disease; health endangerment; security concerns that come with civil outbreaks. These are realities that much of the world is unwilling to face.

The hope is to mitigate the effects of C02 emissions to slow down Climate Departure. While this may mean delaying Climate departure by, on average, 15-20 years, countries like Kingston and Lagos will feel the impact only 5 years later than expected.

Demand for transportation increases

As the Chinese economy continues to dominate, the demand for transportation will have a rippling effect globally. A recent article indicated, that the global demand for cars was largely influenced by China:

the global car market would expand in the next few years, mainly because of growth of demand in China where sales were expected to double by 2019.

This hurtling demand puts much more pressure on carmakers to ensure dependence on gas is lessened. The question is whether mindsets will be as quick to change. In all likelihood, probably not.

The Global Economic Crisis: two steps forward…. one step back

Europe is a classic example of a stubborn political mindset that has turned a blind eye to the compounding issues imposed by the monetary unions, and had not felt the urgency to make drastic changes to fiscal policy until was too late. This has led to a massive competitive imbalance among the debt-ridden economies like Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece, relying on the surplus nations like Germany to compensate. It’s this imbalance that requires radical reform among those economies that have largely relied on monetary unions to dictate their fates.

The US counterparts fare no better. This headline made me chuckle: U.S. Politics 2013 Style: “Let’s Kill The Economy”. To me this is an example of a system that has a huge communication issue, deep-rooted in years of dichotomies. Killing the Affordable Health Care Act by taking the government hostage is a last-ditch effort among “backward thinking idealogues”, as Senator Elizabeth Warren put it, who cannot cope with the realities of democracy.

The demands of the rising unemployment, student debt, an aging population and disparities in access to health care require a new order.

The next generation will be, by all accounts, constrained with their own financial woes. This article, A Million Millions: The Student Debt Crisis in America, states that student debt in the US is now a “staggering” 1 trillion dollars. Here’s how it breaks down:

Thirty-seven million people in the U.S. have student loans, and the average student loan debt is $24,301. Of those who graduated in 2013, the average loan debt is over $35,000. The trend is steady and consistent–education is getting more and more expensive. Student loan debt in the U.S. even exceeds overall credit card debt.

In both the European and US situations, governments have no choice but to change their thinking in order to come to urgent resolution.

The Aging Boomers

If the Tea Party continues its attempts to manipulate the system to crush the Affordable Health Care Act, it will cripple access from a growing population of Boomers. Here are the facts according to a study by Concordia University:

With another American turning 50 years old every 7.5 seconds, by 2015 Baby Boomers will represent 45% of the US population. The average American over the age of 65 has multiple chronic conditions:

  • Hypertension 72%
  • Arthritis 51%
  • Heart Disease 31%
  • Cancer 24%
  • Diabetes 20%

This group accounts for 1/3 of all health care spending, 1/3 of prescription drug use and 40% of doctor visits.

Canada fares no better. The reality rings true all over the world,

Should baby boomers be feeling guilty now that everyone else seems to have finally clued in to the developed world’s worst-kept secret: There are lots of us, we didn’t have enough children of our own to replenish the taxpayer base, and we didn’t contribute enough in taxes to cover our future health needs as increasingly frail citizens.

The result:

Our children and theirs are going to be saddled with an expensive burden they can ill afford as droves of silver-haired boomers leave the workforce and consume a disproportionate share of public health resources in their senior years.

Where does this leave us?

While I worry for the next generation, I also know that extensive measures are being put in motion to alleviate some of this burden. Economies are learning quickly, especially in Europe, that integration helps heal some of the wounds. Realization of fiscal reform is taking hold.

The US is feeling its own civil strife and the results of the lockdown will determine whether there is opportunity to reach some political common ground or face dissension from the voting public.

Dependency on oil and gas in today’s world will need to be re-evaluated now.
Sustainability is no longer a buzz word. This next generation understands and is more attuned to its moral obligation to fix the economic disparities that exist today. This includes gender disparity.

And while the world awaits for the inevitability of climate change, rest assured there will be a rallying cry, however late, to attempt to delay these effects and prepare for substantive change.

As long as this generation is alive, it’s in our best interest to finally take responsibility…. for future generations.

photo credit: UBC News via photopin

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