Balancing Customer Wants and Needs

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What, then, is customer service?

  1. Doing whatever the client requests because “the customer is always right?”

  2. Providing guidance even when the client inclines differently from the expert’s recommendation?

  3. Both?

I lean toward number three, yet everyone finds bridging the gap a challenge.

Professionals believe customers come to them for products and services—and expertise. As someone who provides the service or sells the product, the professional can recommend the best fit for the client’s desired outcome.

Yet often customers want what they want.

When giving the customer what she wants won’t serve her needs—and she’ll likely blame you for missing the mark—balancing expertise and bend-over-backward service moves from “challenging” to “nearly impossible.” (This happens more often in professional services than in, say, commercial real estate.)

The options:

  1. Do whatever the customer wants—as long as everyone acknowledges that it goes against the recommended course of action.

  2. Refuse to honor the client’s wishes.

I’ve taken each path, depending upon how disparate the client’s desires from my recommendations:

  • In the first option, the client still holds us responsible when she doesn’t achieve her objectives. Even if she does accept blame for weak outcomes, the experience feels bad to her (and, by extension, us).

  • The second path engenders client frustration and the impression of stubbornness and poor customer service. And if we forego the work, the client goes to someone else to get it done. (Someone always will.)

We could start a “listen to the experts” awareness movement. Yet I don’t have huge hopes for success.

What do you do when something other than the customer’s wish better fits his need?