"The Customer is Always Right" has been hated by service people for over a century. One of the primary reasons it's hated is that the people who embrace its sermon so tenderly are usually the ones terrorizing the staff. Whether this is the front line manager, an executive in the company or even a customer doesn't really matter. The most frustrating thing a staff member can experience is when they're getting yelled at by a customer for something that is not their fault (and is usually set by corporate/management policy) and then their manager scolds them for not helping the customer. This behavior is probably why Customer Service Personnel are just about the unhappiest employees in the country.
One of the least talked about causes of this unhappiness is the overall quality of employee most firms hire these days. In the past, those working the customer-facing jobs were the least formally educated and usually the most discriminated against (women, blacks, and latinos). These days if you're going through the checkout line at Whole Foods you're probably being served by someone with a Ph.D or at least a Masters. Perhaps most ironic, Whole Foods customers are some of the most entitled jerkbags out there. Not to belittle the humanity of all humans, especially those who have been disenfranchised and systemically denied equal opportunities, but it is a unique type of Frustrating when you've been forced to take a job far outside the career field you dedicated 10+ years of your life studying and then someone is in your line screaming at you because you didn't have the exact caviar she liked like she assumed you would. Yes -- I interviewed a candidate recently who was in "Customer Care" at Whole Foods and he told me this story as an example of his ability to handle difficult situations.
Companies like Whole Foods, Coca-Cola or General Electric have blobbled out so hard that they can't maintain a rational customer base anymore. They need every sale, otherwise one of their employees goes hungry. I get that and I even really respect these companies and their leadership immensely.
However, there is wonderful freedom in not only managing your employees but also in managing your customers. If you've ever been dumped, your friends might say something like, "It's OK, s/he didn't deserve you." Well, I agree. And some customers don't deserve you either. As I work on writing up Cake's legal contracts, I am working on including a consultant's Bill of Rights. If one of us at Cake feels that a client is unreasonably hostile and mean-spirited, we don't want your business. Please, go terrorize one of our competitors. I mean it. I'd rather cut my revenue than try to please someone who isn't willing to be pleasant.
I've represented profit-hungry businesses before and we've kept clients around who are frankly not a good investment. Usually they are rude to us and worse to end users. One client I can think of cost one of my employers 250% of the revenue we made off his account. However, because this person was a loud mouth who would have called his buddies to tell them not to be pals with us anymore, we tolerated him and made special exceptions. The executive suite ignored the pleas and reason from the staff and decided they'd rather keep his "profits" than side with their employees and cut this tumor out. Of course, the problem is that the longer you give abusive twerps carte blanche, the longer this type of person talks crap about you. You're basically giving them an unending supply of material to badmouth your business to others. Once you know the limb is lost, it's far better to amputate quickly than to go at it with kisses and good intentions.
I had offered Cake's services for a contract managing the web presence and new app for an accounting firm looking to acquire "non-traditional" accounting clients. I had it on good faith that the project leader was hip-2-it and that Cake's style would be a good fit. Accounting firms are not known for embracing creativity (frankly, I think creatives terrify most accountants) but I was well stoked to work on their branding and strategy.
The recruiting manager I spoke with said that the potential client had found my tone too informal and "unprofessional." Even though I was personally referred to her, she felt Emotions that I had contacted her directly because this was not the way you adhere to protocol. I suppose the typical corporate strategy is to not speak until you're spoken to. I guess you can tell that the Corp folks are kings because they haven't got $&*! all over them. Bring out yr dead, bring out yr dead.
Hearing this news actually delighted me. If I make rigid back Corp-ses uncomfortable, I am doing something right. I can't imagine working for a client on a brand launch targeted at young creatives if they didn't understand my approach. I sincerely wished this client the best of luck and responded to the client personally, telling them that I'd love to work with them in the future if their brand needed another set of eyes. I'm not sure how I'll respond to the client if she does reach out to me, but right now sending her this link sounds pretty attractive.
If you're a client looking for a creative firm or consultants to hire, you should really make sure that you like the firm you decide to work with. Of course, Cake would love to take your money and your hugs, but at the same time I'd rather you be with a firm that works for you. We can still be friends and it won't be awkward if we run into each other at the supermarket. Promise. Pinky swear.
As a last thought, Happy Valentine's Day! I can't think of a better way to say this than a geeky love song half-played by a real life kitten. Here's to you, dear reader: may you find the partner(s) you deserve and enjoy a slice of delicious cake with them.