The Customer is Not Always Right

Many times the customer is wrong actually. Our job as suppliers is to know more about our business than our customers do, and be able to give good advice. Many times, this means pointing out the wrong things that a customer wants, or thinks is good for them.

A few weeks ago, I had some pain in my stomach, and I had elaborate theories about what was wrong with me, and why I was feeling that pain. I went to the doctor, and after some tests it was clear how nonsensical my theories were.

I was the customer. I was wrong.

If you always tell your customers "yes" no matter what they want, and don't give your honest opinion, you risk losing your credibility. The customer wants to know that they are dealing with someone who is confident and knowledgable enough to suggest their own solutions, even when they are different from what they want.

Many other times the customer is clueless on what they want, and they need your help, and not just telling them that they their idea is the greatest thing you have ever heard.

Whether or not the customer is right is not a really useful question. The important thing to remember is that the customer is always important.

The Good Customer, and the Not-So-Good One

How do I classify my customers / clients? An interesting question that always arises in discussions of segmenting our client base. Whether it is types of customers, or good and bad ones, there is always a problem of drawing that "fine line". We usually know that we have clients who pay more than others, and we know that we should therefore treat them differently, but "how do we draw the line?" could become a tricky question. I prefer getting the answer from the clients collectively. I would like an approach that fits to my special case, and can be used over and over without having rigid lines differentiating between "good" and "bad" clients.
This is a simple technique where you just plot your clients on a graph, draw a line, and that's it!
First create a list of all your clients, and next to each one the average purchases they make, and rank them from the highest to the lowest.
Then, plot the results on a graph, and you will end up with a "long tail". Draw a line to separate the head and the tail, and you get a fairly good segmentation between good and bad customers.
long tail.bmp
The important thing about this technique is that it is flexible and scalable to any business, and to any number of clients. It can also be used for any time range. Also, you get rid of rigid classifications (a good customer is someone who buys more than $1,000/month). This way of classifying could become ridiculous in six months, since your business can grow and your clients' purchases also.
This classifications doesn't look at amounts, it looks at the relative positioning of your clients according to their performance with your business.

Imagination and the Customer

I was watching a documentary about the sun and space and started drifting in the different thoughts that the program evoked in me. While imagining what was happening “out there” in space, I realized that I visually represent it in my mind, and I know that it is not just visual. I know that these are just impressions that happen on our eyes. The sounds the phenomena create (and they are quite noisy) are reverberations of the medium they are in, and what we call sound is just the impression left on our minds. So, to be able to start understanding these phenomena, I realized there should be other ways to “imagine” them.
When you talk about your customer, what do you imagine? Do you imagine a person buying your product, or do you just have a conceptual thing in your mind, or is it just a number?
What is the best way to imagine the customer you are targeting and communicating with?
The method I prefer is recreating and living the experience that person goes through when they are encountered with my message or experiencing a product I’m involved in. This is actually a personal passion of living as vividly as possible the experiences of other people, and understanding them as fully as possible. But I also think this is a sound business strategy, since you really need to understand that person you are motivating to have a good experience with your product.
This is of course different from imagining what you would do when in your customer’s place. This is totally different. I also don’t think it is a good thing, to imagine how you would react, since this throws the exercise off balance. I think we need to develop enough empathy to be able to somehow re-experience what our end users are going through with our products, and how they are reacting to them.