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Rethinking the “Customer is Always Right’

Recently my expertise has been called into question. I’m not sure if it’s how the planets have aligned this week, the growing confidence of people to question everything and everyone, the belief on the part of smart people that because they are smart in one area of their lives, they are smart in other (or all other) areas of their lives. I just know that the more I work to explain why I am approaching the solution to their challenge/problem, and the more they argue and question, the more I start to wonder if I’m right.

This is not new. When I was in graduate school, my client in the final practicum course told me to back off. I did, figuring that as the youngest person in my class, there was a good chance she knew more than me. It was only when my professor told me that she was manipulating me and that I was accurate in my assessment and approach that I was able to stand my ground and push back.

That’s not to say that I’ve never been wrong – I have. I’ve had some spectacular failures.  Sometime the client changes their mind, is fearful about moving forward, doesn’t have the confidence needed in me or in their own ability, or decides that the change is just not worth the discomfort. I am often the recipient of their disrespect and derision.


  • The Vice President who wanted a more sophisticated program than the one I was conducting on communication skills. Privately, I pointed out that he seemed unable to manage the interactive exercises without much success and until he could manage the basics more effectively, it didn’t seem appropriate to move things to a more complicated level. (I wasn’t asked back.)
  • The Supervisor who refused to interact and spent the entire full day program reading magazines.
  • The Executive who decided that the program was a waste of their time and left after the first break. The President wasn’t happy when he came to check on how things were going. He had been specific about having this particular Executive attend the program because he thought his skills were so poor.

I sometimes wonder if I get the push back because of my gender difference,  but how would I know? I’ve always been a female. It isn’t always men who make it clear that I don’t know what I’m doing.  I’m not so arrogant that I’m not open to looking in the mirror and asking if their assessment is accurate.

But I find that the customer/client is not always accurate in assessing their own needs or in determining the gaps in areas of interpersonal or management skills. People can be solution minded to a fault – jumping to the easiest and fastest way to fix a problem without spending enough time defining why it might be a problem.

I want to be thought of as a partner instead of a ‘contractor.”  So I trust my gut more and try to flinch a little less. I work for the best outcome and hope that my client works with me to get it for them.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 19th, 2012 at 10:29 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.