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The Client Isn’t Always Right

When you’re the client, it’s a pleasure to hear the old adage, “The client [customer] is always right”.

When you’re the client, it’s a pleasure to hear the old adage, “The client [customer] is always right”. And, as a client, there’s little I appreciate more than a company I’m dealing with valuing what I want and need as priority #1.

So, putting back on my COO hat, am I being hypocritical (and maybe even un-client centric) when I openly challenge this notion? This is not to say that I don’t value the importance clients and their input bring, but instead this challenge encourages consideration of the context and the value we can all provide to clients by reframing this idea with user research and validation. 

To illustrate the point, let’s review a recent client interaction. We were engaged to help a client design a specific go-to-market application based on a defined market need. To see this application built, the client was prepared to invest $10 million to meet the market need. First, we worked with the client’s internal team to fully understand their vision and requirements. Next, we led them through a three-day cross functional workshop further identifying and defining the need and exploring alternative approaches with and for them. At the end of the three days, everyone was aligned on how to capture this exceptional market opportunity.

Then, we did the unthinkable: we challenged the notion that the client is always right by performing additional market research with end-users identified as the target demographic for the new product offering.

At first, we were frustrated because very few people were willing to talk to us about this “great idea”. Then, the penny dropped when someone said to us, “this product isn’t really of value because the problem it’s solving doesn’t actually exist”. We made a few more calls and received the same feedback. Needless to say, we were at an impasse – should we move forward with the initial build or take this user research back to the client? 

We decided to go back to our client and review the new market insights. At first, they were very frustrated that we had “wasted their time with the workshop”. After some discussion, the tone changed when it became clear that the workshop actually saved them $10 million in development costs for a product that would have resulted in little or no return to them.

As an agile organization – with a strong sense of client centricity – we pivoted the team and explored other potential unmet needs and developed an approach to introduce a different product to an adjacent set of clients. This product is being launched and has already gained traction in the market.

So, really, the lesson here isn’t whether or not the client is always right. It is that client input, direction, and feedback are the most important considerations when developing strategies, policies, client care approaches and products. Only when we take into consideration all of these perspectives, can we be sure we’re co-creating the right digital products for our clients.

 Have an idea or a project in mind? I’d love to hear about it. Let’s talk.