Arguing with customers can be hazardous to your profitability! Now, before you assume that I mean that we should give every customer what he or she wants, let me have a little room to explain.
When customers disagree with you or contest a particular activity there is often wasted energy trying to persuade them to see things as you see them. In some cases, the customer leaves dissatisfied, perhaps even angry, that you would argue with him rather than simply do as he wished.
Is the customer always right? Of course not! In any situation that a customer challenges a procedure or technique that would jeopardize the safety of people, building, etc., you may have an ethical right to push back. Here's an example.
A project manager for a client of mine was asked by a potential customer to build an outdoor pool and spa in the middle of a ravine behind their home. Realizing that the ravine was formed due to natural water flow patterns, our project manager informed the customer that the site was not recommended. The customer persisted stating that water had not flowed through this ravine in the three years he had lived in the home and that he wanted his "outdoor water world" built where he wanted.
Our project manager also knew of other potential restrictions that the local city engineers would have with such a choice. The customer would still not hear of it and informed us that we would not get his business due to our inability to meet his desire and need. Brief update: the man never did find a pool company to put a pool in this ravine so began to build one there himself?only to be stopped cold by the city!
The project manager referred to above should be congratulated for taking his stand. If he had agreed with this ignorant customer he would clearly have put his firm at risk, and that's if they ever got the city's OK. If the job had been allowed by the city a future rainy season might even have jeopardized the customer's own property. Not all arguments with customers, however, are so obvious in their final conclusions.
Where a customer is simply offering a different perspective than your own, don't allow a conversation where differences are discussed to turn into an argument. Whether you are right or wrong, the customer will win these arguments, and you lose the time spent in arguing your position and run the risk of losing the customer's business.
Another quick example makes this last point. A paving contractor friend of mine provides design and colored paving for patios and walk ways. One of his customers wanted a particular design and color to be installed leading up to his front door and portico. Because my friend was much more experienced with colors and warranty issues surrounding his product, he made a proposal as to the design and color to install. The customer challenged his proposal.
Rather than argue his point, my contracting friend simply made his case, using colors that the homeowner would be using on the exterior walls. When the customer still didn't budge, he simply complied with putting in the color and design requested by the customer. "It was the ugliest thing you've ever seen," he told me after the job was placed.
Several months later this same customer contacted my contractor friend to say how he was not pleased with the design and color installed. Oh yes, the customer also asked my friend to return to the home, remove the "ugly stuff" and install what my friend had initially proposed.
Not all customer interactions of this sort turns out so positive. Sometimes customers will not swallow their pride and admit that they were wrong and that you were right. Don't fear, you won't win every customer back or have every customer begging for your forgiveness.
Keep it simple when it comes to arguing with customers. Realize if the reason for the arguments is personal taste differences. If it is, and if the differences are not putting your firm at risk legally, morally, or ethically, just "let it go."
Don't waste the time needed to argue your point, it will only cost you time and maybe even a little profitability. Swallow your pride (even if the customer will not) and simply choose a later battle to take up. You won't like every taste or preference your customers have, and not every customer will want to know your tastes or preferences?even if you're the expert!
Brad Humphrey is president of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting and educational company committed to the construction industry. For information about Brad's firm visit www.pinnacledg.com.