Gen Wise Perspective

Gen Y's perspective (pun intended) on our journey through work, life, and everything in between.

Is the client always right?

Anyone who works in a services industry has probably heard the saying “the client [customer] is always right.” I understand why that saying exists—at the end of the day, they’re the ones paying you to do what they ask.

But aren’t they also paying for your service because you’re the “expert” on the subject matter? Sure, some would argue that they pay because they don’t have the time/resources to handle the job on their own. But then they could’ve hired their buddy Joe Schmoe to take the job off their hands instead of hiring a trained professional who specializes in the particular area of need.

That being said, when you think your client is flat-out wrong…how do you go about pushing back?

There are times when I receive instructions from a client that I absolutely disagree with. Sometimes they question something we’ve done and aren’t so nice about the way they word it, which immediately fires me up. That’s obviously not a good thing.

I of course start to take it personally, which my mom says is something I will learn to curb with age. I know I need to practice that now. I’m sure I’m not the only one, so I’m being bluntly honest about myself in the hope that others might learn from my flaws. Another lesson I learned from my mom is that (hopefully) as I get older I will learn to let things go and develop a tougher skin. I would love to expedite that.

But I haven’t mastered it yet. And I hate being wrong. All of this is a bad combination for pushing back on a client, yet I have enough common sense to know that there’s a delicate way about addressing the situation.

So before doing anything I wanted to get a third-party opinion. I tweeted to my followers, asking what their stance is on pushing back on clients.

I received some great advice, but what resonated most was this comment by Paul Kluding: “Ok to do it, but go in w/motto: think 1st to understand, then be understood. They don’t just want “yes” men/women”

I swear it was one of those “lightbulb” moments. I get hung up on the small things such as the slightly unprofessional tone in emails when a client is questioning me, or the finer points of what they’re asking me to do that don’t make sense to me.

But why didn’t I ever just stop and think about why? What is driving the client to write this email? What is at stake for them?

In reality, their reasoning could be about an issue larger than the one at hand.

So instead of firing back an email that completely defended and justified my position (even if I could do this with ample facts and support), I sought to find the real pain point. Taking Paul’s advice, I wanted to first understand then clarify my point to be understood.

I simply asked why the client felt the way they did. Then I offered my advice on how I would like to handle the situation, while also pointing out that I realize there might be a side of the coin I just wasn’t seeing at this time.

I wanted to address the root of the problem. I wanted us to truly get on the same page. And you know what? We did. And I bet this issue won’t come up again, but it might have if I approached this differently.

I also believe this approach helped to further earn the client’s respect and builds trust in my judgment moving forward.

What do you think? What are your experiences with pushing back on clients? I’d love the perspective of others who have been at this a lot longer than me.

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7 thoughts on “Is the client always right?

  1. If you find yourself becoming irritated by a given situation I find it often helps to step away if possible and recompose yourself. The ability to deal with slightly snide or difficult people is a skill and takes practice to develop. As long as the client maintains a professional demeanor and isn’t blatantly disrespectful I would thoroughly explain why I chose to do something the way I did and listen to their reason for wanting it done differently.

    • Jackie Lampugnano on said:

      I think you’re spot on about stepping away to recompose. It’s a good thing to truly believe in what you do and have passion for it, but sometimes that can drive us to become irritated at situations. Imagine if we always responded in the heat of the moment? Yikes.

  2. As someone who works with clients daily, I have to say firmly that no the client is not always right. I think you are spot on when you say that part of what the client is paying for is your expertise. And if you are not willing or able to correct the client when he or shit is wrong, then really you are just doing them a disservice.

    • Jackie Lampugnano on said:

      What I’ve noticed is that some clients treat you more like a partner, so they want to bounce ideas off of you and they want you to push back. Others have more of a one-track mind. Working in PR is always a challenge because many people have a different view of what it actually means and what its benefit is. That doesn’t help the situation either. But I agree with you that you’re doing them a disservice if you’re not willing to correct them. What’s the point if you just go along with everything?

      • Exactly. Although being “right” can sometimes be pretty subjective so I always try to make sure that I’m cautious there.

        And uh, I definitely meant “he or she” and not what I apparently wrote above. So, um yeah sorry about that. Ear muffs!

  3. As a client, yes, of course we’re always right. And you should buy us coffees and take us to lunch all the time as well. And tell us how great we are. But we do pay you for two purposes — help us get work done and give us your best, expert advice. Some clients say they want both but really only want the work done. Some want both. My advice is that when you give advice be prepared with examples, facts and be able to back up your ideas. I do expect firms I work with to push back, but maybe that’s just me. You did the right think and you know that because it worked. Well done.

    • Jackie Lampugnano on said:

      Haha!! If you were my client I would take you out to lunch EVERY DAY!

      I think you’re spot on: some clients just need us to get work done because they don’t have the resources, but others treat us like a partner and look to us for our ideas, opinions, advice, etc. The ones that just want work done seem to think they already know best. But I figure if I can find their pain point, then I can figure out how to back up my claim with something that they’ll understand 🙂

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