Always Right or Just Mis-Informed??

Charles Robinson

I am sure that you all have heard the expression “The customer is always right.”  Well, I’m willing to bet that the individual that coined this phrase had never worked in the Information Technology (IT) career field or was the actual customer himself.  This phrase, when applying it to IT needs to be reworded to state:

I am sure that you all have heard the expression The customer is always right. Well, Im willing to bet that the individual that coined this phrase had never worked in the Information Technology (IT) career field or was the actual customer himself. This phrase, when applying it to IT needs to be reworded to state: The Customer is Usually Mis-Informed!

“The Customer is Usually Mis-Informed!”

OK, now let me quantify a few things.  First, we are in a service-oriented industry.  We would not have a job if there were not a need to install new services, fulfill requests or fix broken things.  New services, requests or broken things would not exist if it were not for the number one ingredient, the Customer.  Lets put this in very simple terms:  No Customer, No Needs, No Job!!!  The first time you forget that, you will most likely be reminded by having to file unemployment!!!!

Second, a customer, according to Webster’s, is “one that patronizes or uses services”.  I think we can all agree that some customers can be very patronizing and they will use us as much as we will let them.  There also happens to be two designations of customers:  paying and none paying.  If you are a consultant that has been hired to perform a specific task, you have paying customers.  If you are a member of an “in-house” IT shop, you have none paying customers.  With me so far??

Customers, paying or not, are all the same.  They come to us, armed with the information on what they want or what the problem is that they are having, why they want it or what is causing their problem and when we should have it done or fixed by.  You all know whom I am talking about.  The individual that is standing outside your door at 8:00AM, waiting for you to walk into your office, stand at your desk and wait for you to put your coat down and expect you to follow them to their desk and fulfill their request at that exact moment.  This is where the “Customer is always right” theory falls apart and the “mis-information” begins.

Lets break the above sentence down.

“They come to us”  Well, like it or not, we are supposed to be the experts, right??!! 

“armed with the information”  This information has most likely came from a flier they received in the office mail, a TV commercial, from a friend or (God help you) during the Internet browsing they did at their desk while on their coffee break.  This information being of the advertisement type, gives everything that the product, software or hardware, has been shown to do in a lab environment, by the developer of the product, never to be duplicated again by the mere mortals that we are.

“on what they want”  Notice I did not say “what they need”.  Most requests are not made on what is truly needed by the customer, but what they want.  A quick example: 

A customer comes in asking about getting this new “Wonder Tool” to help them in their job.  They tell you it has all the benefits of tires on a car (tires on a car are pretty important. Stick with me) and they want it. 

“or what the problem is that they are having”  We have all heard this statement:  “I cannot get into my e-mail.  Outlook must be down.”  Knowing what we know, there is a multitude of things that could be the problem, but the customer does not know that.  All they know is that is what the problem is and they need it fixed.

“why they want it”  Now for the reason they want it.  This “Wonder Tool” will allow them to do this wiz-bang thing, when they do not know that they already have access to a tool that can do the same thing, they just have to learn how to use it.

“or what is causing their problem”  This is the best one.  “I keep losing connection to Oracle.  Something must be wrong with Windows.”  They fail to mention that their network cable is on the floor, under their feet and that they step on it all day long. 

“and when we should have it done or fixed by.”  Unrealistic as they may be, the time frame that the customer puts on IT comes from inexperienced in how long some technology takes to implement.  They also feel that their request/problem is the most important and that is what you should be working on.  (To them, if they cannot get their work done, it is number one in their books)

So why do I say “mis-informed”.  Well, a lot of it has to do with what is perceived as being the problem, either by the customer or someone who influences the customer.  If a companies main financial system is Oracle and a section manager has worked with something else and starts to speak bad about Oracle to his staff, how many of them will also speak bad of it?  If a user has a truly bad PC and it causes her/him to loose productivity and he blames it on the lack of IT support, what will others around him think?

OK.  So now you are going to ask where am I going with all this. (Go ahead, ask)  Well here goes.  Our jobs in the IT realm does not only entail making mystical magical things work and putting people in aw of our god like abilities, which we all love to do, it is to provide service to and educate the customers who rely on us.

There is no greater respect that can be earned in IT then that of your customers.  If you take the time to listen and explain what you are doing, or better yet show them how to do it, you will be considered an asset they will come back to and not feel stupid when asking.  Believe it or not, PCs intimidate customers.  It is a tool they have been told to use, like it or not, and if it does not function like they feel or know it is supposed to, because you showed them, it needs fixed. 

Don’t believe me about the respect thing.  Sit back and watch.  See who in your IT department gets the most calls, who in the department has the most people walk in and ask for them.  Then watch and see how they handle themselves.  They most likely do not talk down to the customers; they talk to them, explaining why they already have the tools to do the job they feel that the “Wonder Tool” will do.

So does this mean that, with enough education and patience, the “The Customer is Usually Mis-Informed!” will change back to “The Customer is Always Right”?  Not a chance.  Because in the IT world, there will always be customers that feel they know more then you and you are the village idiot and your uncle must be the president who hired you out of pity.  Great to know, huh!!!???

Think about it…..

This article was originally published on Jan 20, 2001
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