Acronym Confusion: Why The Customer Isn’t Always Right

By Paul Slezak - Sep. 14, 2014
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My very first job was working at a petrol station (that’s a ‘gas station’ to anyone reading this in the USA!).

After handing me my uniform and name badge on my first day, the owner said to me “No matter what happens around here, the customer is always right”.

After 25 years I can now confess that even if all the customers were supposedly ‘right’, there may have been a few occasions that if someone was particularly rude to me, then let’s just say their tyres may not quite have been pumped up properly. Or I might have ‘accidentally’ left something nasty smelling under a seat if I was asked to clean their car!

In my first professional role (one that didn’t involve pumping tyres or cleaning cars), this poster was stuck up on the wall behind me, so that every time I got up from my desk I was reminded of the importance of a strong customer service ethic.

Customer Service

If you can’t quite make out what it says, the copy under the word “Service” reads: “Service is the lifeblood of any organisation. Everything flows from it and is nourished by it. Customer Service is not a department … It’s an attitude“.

Personally I have always prided myself on my own customer service ethic, and I have always built teams committed to delivering nothing but an awesome level of service to our clients.

But one thing I have also learned (often the hard way!) is that no matter what all the adages or motivational posters say, the customer isn’t always right.

*       *       *

A few months ago I shared a few of my most bizarre firing stories.

Letting a team member go is never an easy thing. But parting company with a client (telling them politely that you no longer want to work with them) isn’t always the most pleasant experience either. I’ve done it many times … and believe me always with a very valid reason.

If a customer is going to be ‘right’, then this ‘right’ needs to start with a mutual respect of the professional relationship and not with what I have often referred to as a ‘doormat relationship’ when you feel like you’re just being walked all over.

1. SLA: Service Level Abuse

A successful Service Level Agreement is one where both parties agree on certain activity levels, how often feedback will be provided, or how various milestones will be measured.

There have been many occasions where even after the implementation of a traditional SLA, I have had clients fail to provide any feedback or not return service quality check-in calls for weeks, only to then come in all guns blazing claiming we have failed to comply.

I’m sorry but that’s unacceptable.

2. KPI: Key Performance Irritation

Key Performance Indicators are typically set in place as a way for the service provider (the sales rep, account manager, Us!) to adhere to certain deliverables or metrics.

We all try our best to maintain these – but it’s not always easy when our client decides to become the ‘master goalpost stretcher’.

If a KPI is set in place then that’s what we’re working towards. It’s extremely irritating when the client changes their expectations unrealistically and often (not so politely) drops that bomb on us and expects us to jump to attention.

You might be able to tolerate this once or perhaps even twice. But any more goalpost stretching could be a hint that it’s probably time for the full time whistle.

That’s always been my theory anyway.

3. TOA: Terms Of Avoidance

We’re all aware of the importance of having Terms of Business or Terms of Agreement set in place. The idea behind such documents is to define payment terms and any other ‘contractual’ obligations.

Assuming both parties ‘sign’ the terms, why do so many clients then suddenly feel they have the right to blatantly disregard them? We chase invoices; they ignore our calls. Many clients breach the terms and then deny it if we (dare to) raise it.

Then even with some invoices being overdue by several months, some clients still have the nerve to demand that more work be delivered.

Ah … that would be No.

4. PSA: Pretty-much-anyone Supplies-us Around-here

Throughout my career I have unfortunately learned not to trust the concept of exclusivity or a Preferred Supplier Agreement.

Far too many times it’s been a case of nothing other than ‘all talk and no action’. I can vividly remember all the way through one particular tendering process the client was talking about an exclusive partnership. We submitted our proposal, we dropped our fees (far too much!) and we then supposedly ‘won’ the work.

We started working with this client only to discover (a few weeks into a 2-year arrangement), that they in fact had many ‘different levels’ of PSAs in place.

I was sitting opposite the client when I raised my concern. “Look, Paul, we really want you to work with us but it is what it is. And if you don’t like it I guess you’ll have to walk away”.

We did!

5. BCP: Brutality Coping Plan

In another recent post I talked about how one of my previous managers really went in to defend me in front of a particularly hostile client.

What I didn’t mention in that post, was that this client actually came back a few years later wanting to work with us again (oh the irony!).

Something didn’t sit well with me when he asked what BCP I would put in place for him.

I’m sorry. What exactly do you mean?

BCP. Business Continuity Plan”, he replied.

I know what BCP means”, I continued.

If I don’t like working with one of your consultants, how quickly will you have another one trained and up and running?

I immediately had flashbacks to how rude he had been towards me when I had been his consultant years earlier.

I decided there wouldn’t be a BCP. We wouldn’t be working with him.

6. RFT: Request For Time-wasting

How many times have you jumped at the opportunity to submit a proposal as part of a traditional RFT?

We all get excited if we’re invited to take part in a Request For Tender. But the way a prospective client treats a potential supplier during the RFT process can be a pretty good indicator of how they will treat you once the agreement is up and running.

A few years ago I submitted a proposal for what looked like an exciting new client opportunity. The document was sent off well before the deadline but then we didn’t hear anything.

Naturally we assumed we hadn’t been successful. Then several months later we received a call congratulating us on a successful submission!

Working on our first project with this particular client, we provided them with some amazing candidates within a week of being briefed on the role, and once again all we received was radio silence. About a month later they called insisting on interviewing each of the candidates – all of whom had already found other jobs.

This quickly became a common theme.

Sayonara Mr Client.

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.


Paul Slezak

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.

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