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With over 25 years in business under my belt, one would think that the answer to this question would be a definite "yes" or "no", but the reality is quite different.

In fact, if I had to summarize my point of view, it would be as follows: the customer is not always right, but as he is the one who pays, saying "no" might lead to financial consequences.

Why do I say this? I have gotten excellent suggestions, great finds and some very interesting points of view from my clients, but also things that are not so good and sometimes even reckless. Generally, with explanations, demonstrations and tact, I can get them to see my side of things when the idea is not positive.

But what level of disagreement are we talking about here? Is it when we do not see eye to eye for the Pantone shade of blue to use for the company’s logo?

No, I am referring to a deeper disagreement. Such as when customers suggest spamming as an advertising tactic claiming there will be no consequences. Or to put forward a measurement protocol to assess the effectiveness of a training program that will cost several thousand dollars to your corporate client and that you know will not work. This is the level I’m talking about.

For some disagreements which are still within the acceptability zone, one of the techniques I use is to sign a document releasing me from any liability/responsibility if we go ahead with the initiative. This is often a wake up call for some customers. But sometimes clients are adamant about their point of view, no matter how wrong they might be.

In these moments, a decision must be made: give in or risk losing money by saying “no”. Because the customer is paying, does he have the last word? No. You have the last word.

If what is being suggested to you is not consistent with your beliefs, your logic, your work ethic or other values, you can still say no. It may be that this is a point of no return in your client-provider relationship, but if the suggestions can be an embarrassment, affect your professional credibility or lead to a result that you know will be negative, you would be wise to distance yourself from these possible consequences.

Of course, your situation may make this decision more difficult. That with which you have an issue may be an important mandate for your company. Is the customer with whom you have a disagreement an important one? Are you starting out in business? All these reasons may weigh in the balance when assessing the consequences that a refusal might bring. Saying "yes" to something that we do not believe can bring a lot of regrets and problems, while saying "no" can generate financial strains.

As I said in the beginning; the customer is not always right; but it is he who has control of the money hence you must be prepared to live with the consequences of a refusal.

What about you? What is your experience? Has the customer always been right?


Stéphane Elmaleh-Riel, B.Ed., MBA
Marketing consultant