The Customer is NOT Always Right, But…

There’s an old saying in the marketing world that suggests that “the customer is always right”. Since no-one can be right about everything, this saying is clearly fallacious.

In fact, as a general rule, companies that produce products and service have probably invested a great deal into understanding their market. Market research, feedback from a wide variety of customers and research and design from experts are powerful tools. Chances are that a company is more likely to be right than any individual customer.

Although I believe that a company is more likely to be “right” than an individual customer, I strongly believe that there is rarely ever any reason for a marketer, sales person or other company representative to tell the customer that they’re wrong!

A very popular Twitter client for the iPhone has recently been upgraded to quite wide acclaim. I was a user of an earlier version of this application, and only crossed to something else due to a couple of features that more closely met my needs. I was interested in the upgraded product, and so had a look at the Twitter stream about it.

As expected, there were many happy users, but there were also quite a number who expressed a dislike for the way the new version handles Retweets. In defence of the developer, the new version handles retweets the way that Twitter itself has implemented the function.

However, many users of Twitter (and of this Twitter client) are not happy as the new function does not allow them to add comments to their retweets. Historically, retweeting was not something introduced by Twitter or any individual developer, but was developed by a community groundswell. In this case, crowd-sourcing led to the development of the function.

While an individual customer is less likely to be right than a knowledgeable business, the collective wisdom of a crowd suggests gives a great likelihood of a group of customers being right.

So whilst individual customers may not know more than a company, the community groundswell has a high level of collective wisdom. So for a developer to make this comment provides us with several important marketing lessons:

Vocal minority have problem with change – no doubt once they try it they’ll realize how awesome it is. No more RT spam!

Firstly, the “vocal minority” refers to a crowd of thinking users who have a want. Although it may not be the feature as envisaged by Twitter or the developer, users have the choice of either compromising their wishes, or of taking their business elsewhere.

Secondly, the developer has basically told his customers that they are wrong, and that he is right. This type of behaviour can be polarising, and can make many customers question whether they continue to do business with a company.

Thirdly, the developer is also criticising the way people use his product. “No more RT spam” refers to their additional comments users put into retweets. In my experience, this is not “spam”, but additional comments that give an insight into the retweeters opinion of the original tweet.

In my opinion, this one tweet from the developer shows poor marketing on several levels, and provides us with some key marketing lessons.

Lessons for Marketing

  1. Although the customer may not be right, informing them of that “fact” is rarely beneficial. Especially publicly.
  2. Customers have needs, wants and dreams. If these do not map to your products, forcing the customer to compromise is a tricky prospect. At least listen to them, and don’t lecture them.
  3. Individual customers are less likley to be “right” than a business with strong market research. However, “the wisdom of crowds” means that a collective of customers might have a good chance of being right.
  4. Listen to your customer using the “facial ratio”. You have two ears and one mouth!

Its ironic that the popularity of this particular app started from a groundswell. Hopefully the developer will listen and consider the wishes of the user base. The customer may not always be right, but it would probably be best if they stayed as customers.


Photography enthusiastic, writer, hiker and diving geek from Canberra (and Sydney), Australia. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

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