Blaming the customer

I like to read marketing guru Seth Godin’s blog, because he is sensitive to the difference between dealing plainly with people and manipulating them, and is adamant that plain dealing is the more effective route. Which means that many of his posts take a close look at where the line needs to be drawn carefully, and the temptation to cross it need to be resisted.

Some of his examples are blatant, but many are subtle, like this one.

If you need to explain to a customer that he’s wrong, that everyone else has no problem, that you have tons of happy customers who were able to successfully read the instructions, that he’s not smart enough or persistent enough or handsome enough to be your customer, you might be right.

But if you are, […] you’ve lost him.

Some people are more trouble than they’re worth, and you need to recognize that. But you also need to recognize that when you treat a customer as if they’re not worth your trouble, they will soon be no trouble to you at all.

By all means, fire the customers who aren’t worth the time and the trouble. But understand that the moment you insist the customer is wrong, you’ve just started the firing process.

The first part is true, and good business practice. Joel Salatin is adept at identifying customers who will not be worth his time and trouble, and has no problem unilaterally dropping their name from his mailing list. The second part, though, is a typically savvy Godin observation, which he elaborates on as follows:

If you find yourself litigating, debating, arguing and most of all, proving your point, you’ve forgotten something vital: people have a choice, and they rarely choose to do business with someone who insists that they are wrong.

This is where the post goes beyond marketing advice into life lesson. Customer or not, it’s shocking how often we’re treated this way by people we deal with, people who we have no obligation to deal with. It touches all areas of life, but I’m thinking at the moment of writers who, when they are misunderstood, blame the reader for not reading carefully enough! Very strange, especially since to writers their readers are precious and hard-won things, whereas to readers the writers they follow are a dime a dozen, easily traded in on a model who offers the same wisdom more clearly or congenially.

Godin wraps up with a bit of marketing advice that is clearly applicable to any writing, and to dealing with others in general:

PS here’s a great way around this problem: Make sure that the instruction manual, the website and the tech support are so clear, so patient and so generous that customers don’t find themselves being wrong.


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