Good Customer Service
Paul Murphy at ZDNet recently wrote a pretty good article about giving customers what they need, even if ultimately it is not what they ask for. In the example he cited, one company hired a vendor who gave them exactly what they asked for. As a result, that company ended up $100 million in the hole with nothing to show for it.
So who was wrong? I reported the facts as I saw them: the out-sourcing firm had a responsibility to differentiate the client from the guy who hired them and tell that client the truth: that what the IT director wanted wasn't what the client needed and anyway couldn't be done on the IT director's chosen platform within the time and budget available.
The difference between good customer service and bad customer service isn't determined solely by the customer's mood at the end of each meeting. Sometimes the customer has to be told "no," even if it causes some discomfort. At the end of the day, most reasonable people will be happy for your honesty, and if you're right, your advice will help them build their brand's value.
As Seth Godin said recently in a recent article, "If you're a good marketer (or even worse, a great marketer), it means that you're responsible for what you sell. When you choose to sell it, more of it gets sold" [emphasis mine]. If the client wants to do something that we believe is harmful to their ability to sell or is just a waste of money, it is our responsibility to tell them and take the time to try to convince them of a better course of action.
Now, some things aren't mission-critical, so it's not worth dumping a client if they absolutely insist on a slightly bad idea. That stuff will come out in user testing. But if the idea is bad or cannot be delivered in the way the client wants because of incorrect assumptions, don't we have the responsibility to say no? If we're right and the client seeks the answer elsewhere, eventually they'll come to realize that we were right, they'll learn to trust our judgment, and since the quality of work we do will increase, it will increase our ability to attract new clients and larger projects, as we will have a more consistent track record of delivering results instead of empty promises.
Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather be the person who didn't get the $100 million account than the guy who lost my client $100 million when I could have prevented it. - Cam Beck
Servant of Chaos has a great post on this topic. Check it out when you get a chance.