The Customer is Not Always Right

Conventional wisdom holds that the customer is always right. As is often the case, conventional wisdom is wrong. Unfortunately, far too many contractors buy into this faulty view, and in the process, they do themselves and their customers a great disservice. Equally unfortunate, many customers also embrace this adage, with the same destructive results.

Consider what “the customer is always right” really means: regardless of the facts, the customer’s position should be accepted by both parties. The focus is not on the truth, but blind acceptance of the customer’s claims. But what if the customer is actually wrong?

As an example, let us say that the customer tells you that he will supply the paint for his exterior painting project. When you arrive to start the project, you discover that the customer has purchased interior paint. The customer insists that you use the paint, despite any arguments you present. “Paint is paint,” the customer declares. (I’ve actually had this occur.)

If you accept the adage that the customer is always right, you will go ahead and use the paint. Rather than continue a pointless debate, you conclude that you will avoid the problem by giving in. But what happens when the paint job fails prematurely? Who will get the blame? Did you really avoid a problem, or just delay it?

In this example, the customer gets a poor job. Your reputation is going to take a hit because you agreed that the customer is always right, even when he isn’t. You may find yourself with a major headache down the road, all because you believed that the customer is always right.

Nobody is infallible, and this doesn’t change simply because someone has hired your company to paint their house. When a customer is wrong, we must say so. Of course, we should be tactful in dong so.

Standing up to a customer who is wrong is not always easy. But it is much easier than dealing with a problem that could have been avoided if we had simply had the courage to defend the truth.

My Life

If you want to see something upbeat, positive, and moral, watch this video.

Honesty and integrity in selling paint jobs

A few years ago I met with a customer who was getting the “required” 3 estimates. After we talked for a while and walked around her house, I remarked that I really didn’t think she needed to have her house painted. A few areas needed some attention, but 90% of the house was in fine shape.

“I’d love to take your money,” I said, “but I would prefer to wait a few years for the time your house really needs painting.” To me, this attitude is nothing remarkable. But the customer was visibly and vocally surprised.

“Several other contractors insisted that we needed our entire house painted,” she said. “Why would they tell me that?”

“I won’t speculate about their motivation,” I replied. “But as you can see yourself, you only have a few isolated areas with a small amount of flaking paint. If you want to paint your house, no harm will be done, except to your wallet. But you don’t need to paint your house. I’ll give you an estimate to address these problem areas.”

I’m sure many other contractors have similar conversations on a regular basis. And I’m also sure many contractors engage in a very different conversation—my customer told me so.

I won’t bad mouth other contractors to my customers. I don’t think it’s professional or wise. I gain nothing by doing so.

But I’ll bad mouth them here. I think contractors who mislead customers are dishonest scum. I think they are short-sighted, and put the “con” in contractor. I think they do a disservice to their customers (the few they get), their industry, and themselves. And in the long run I think they get exactly what they deserve.

I don’t tell this story to pat myself on the back. I don’t need that. I tell it to provide encouragement to those who may be tempted to take the easy way. The easy way is just a short cut to going out of business.

I’ve had conversations similar to the above many, many times over the past 24 years. I sleep well knowing that I treat my customers with respect. But then, maybe that’s why I’ve been in business for 24 years.

Character as a sales tool for paint jobs

I seem to attract a lot of customers who have been burned by another contractor. Perhaps I am not unusual in that regard, but it seems to me that I get more than my fair share of such customers.

They are understandably suspicious of contractors. This is both an opportunity and a challenge. The challenge is overcoming the suspicion, which usually isn’t hard to do. And that presents the opportunity.

While most contractors are honest and trust worthy, there are certainly enough who aren’t that it can give all of us a bad name. When a customer expects us all to be crooks we start with a strike against us, and it can be difficult to overcome that preconceived notion. But difficult does not mean impossible.

Typically, when a customer gets burned it is by the low priced contractor. While this is unfortunate, it demonstrates to the customer that they truly get what they pay for. In many ways this makes it easier to demonstrate that the value offered by my company is indeed superior.

Perhaps the most effective way to demonstrate this is through character. If you show sincere concern for the customer, spend the time necessary to educate the customer, and establish reasonable expectations, the customer will perceive a difference between you and the “competition”.

Of course, we should always display such qualities. Indeed, quality of character is perhaps the greatest selling tool available to us. Quality of character builds trust, and selling is primarily about developing trust.

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