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The Steak Around Our Neck


Yesterday, I had two very smart comments from Janet and Bella about what I'd written on the customer always being right heard.

Janet wants to see the second chapter in the short story of Mrs. Jones' complaint about being overbilled. Three hours of service from ABC Plumbing? Pshaw, says she. Mrs. Jones insists that it was two.

Janet sees three options:

  • Strike an hour from the bill because "the customer is always right"
  • Insist Mrs. Jones pay the full bill
  • Offer to split the difference with her
Janet also wonders: how does a company "stand behind its employee, and satisfy the customer?"

What a great question.

Bella, likewise, asserts "whether you like it or not, there will always be a certain amount of giveaway and subservience. That's why it's called customer service."

I love that... customer service, indeed.

So how does a business rectify the situation? Assuming that there is no way to prove either story - two hours or three hours - the business has a decision to make.

I think we've all done business with a company that didn't listen to us at all. We call to air our concern and we wander in a maze of phone menu, or we speak to someone with all the personal skills of cardboard, or we're simply told we're wrong and that's the end of it. Do we feel heard?

In any contention in any relationship, our first best step is to simply listen fully to what the other person has to say. As Stephen Covey says, we should "seek to understand before we seek to be understood." That alone says that we esteem the other person and their point of view. If we stop them from speaking what they need to air, we only compound their frustration. And so as difficult as this may be, we need to be quiet and put ourselves aside for a moment and just listen.

Bella says it well when she says that "most people in situations like this want what is right, not just to be right."

The emotion of it wants to be right. By listening fully and silently, we help subside the emotion of it. And in that relative calm, most people are ready to want what is right.

Sanity lies in having the right relationships in our lives. That applies personally as well as professionally. No business should have a relationship with someone who doesn't want a fair trade. Giving away the store for the sake of maintaining a customer is not good business. While a business owner might feel good about the company wearing a steak around its neck to attract the hounds of the world, it's not worth it. Some customers are not worth the expense.

So to answer Janet's great question: it depends on the value of Mrs. Jones as a customer. If Mrs. Jones always undercuts the word of employees, then it's best to part ways. Mrs. Jones can go be right with some other company. Severing the relationship is best.

But if this is a hiccup in an otherwise sound relationship, and if Mrs. Jones persists in her story, then seeing it her way this one time is well worth it. She liked you before, she had a complaint but found that you listened to her, and she saw that you valued her business enough to see it her way this one time. Her repeat business and now positive experience increases the word-of-mouth marketing that she'll do for your company. The smart move is to let her be right.

We only show integrity when it costs us something, and integrity is an adjective every company craves about itself in the mouths of its customers.


Tags: listening | business
by Brett Rogers, 6/26/2007 8:34:16 AM


The emotion of it wants to be right. By listening fully and silently, we help subside the emotion of it. And in that relative calm, most people are ready to want what is right.

Counselors at the substance abuse agency I work for use this technique all the's a prety common therapy tool. Interesting how worlds collide, eh? :-)



Posted by Bella, 6/26/2007 5:52:35 PM

It's all about relationships, ain't it?



Posted by Brett Rogers (, 6/27/2007 10:31:30 AM

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