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Kelly Hobkirk
Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites
Seattle, Washington
Very helpful
7.4
out of 10
19 votes

Why the Customer is Always Right (Even When They're Brutally, Horribly Wrong)

How do you make your customers feel after they tell you what they want? Your reaction has a huge impact on their perception of you, and on how they remember you and your brand.
Written Aug 29, 2008, read 5594 times since then.
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Customer service is one of the most important aspects of your brand. That's right, of your brand. The way we treat people is a monumental core component of how people perceive us. As we all know, perception becomes reality. Our job as business owners and brand lovers is to guide perception in every genuine way possible.

The ability to smile in the face of a weak concept is paramount to successful client relationships. I always try to make my customers feel like they are right, even when they are wrong, sometimes horribly wrong. Here is my approach:

1. Do what the client asks. Even if it is detrimental to their business – even if it makes me pull my armpit hairs (I have no hair on my head) out by the roots – I always do what the client asks. If budget and time allow for it, I provide an excellent execution of what the client asked for, along with a stronger alternative. Upon seeing the results of their request, business-savvy clients will usually choose the best approach, even if it is ultimately not the concept or end-product they originally asked for. When a client sees that their concept is not really what they were after, and I present a stronger alternative, they are happy to pay for the additional work because they know that I did exactly what they requested, then I went the extra mile.

2. Do our best. Whether we are working on our own idea or a client's idea, putting forth our best effort will always reap rewards in one way or another. Holding back does nothing for anyone. Showing the client our best work and hard efforts will usually pay dividends. Don't try to save the best concept for the next project, or you may not ever get the chance to show it.

3. Give the client the credit.
Do your clients ever try to take credit for your ideas? Mine do, all the time. Give clients the credit when they have a great idea. Make them feel like they came up with a great idea. After all, we would not have their business if they had not had a great idea in the first place. If a client tries to take credit for your great idea, sock them in the ear. Ha! Just seeing if you are paying attention. (Don't ever punch clients.) When clients try to take the credit, gently remind them of your value or your idea, but ultimately, let them steal the five second spotlight if they insist. What would you rather have, the credit or the business?

4. Ask questions. Listen to your clients when they are talking.
If a client says something that is just plain wrong, what do you do? Tell them they're wrong? Hell no! Did you correct your grandma when she mispronounced a word? If you did, she probably hit you over the head with a rolled up TV Guide or National Enquirer. The customer is always right. (As is the grandma.) When a customer says something that without a doubt is wrong as wrong can be, I ask questions. We know our stuff, but hey! Our clients know their businesses better than anyone. Why risk pissing off a client by telling them that they are wrong? When we ask questions and give them their due attention, we learn important little clues about what makes them tick. That gives us fuel for promoting their company and for providing better value.

5. Involve the client in the process. The more involved a client is in the work, the more invested they will be. They will understand why we chose certain paths or made particular decisions. They will have less questions and more confidence in what we are doing. When they see the results of our work, our clients have a greater understanding of how and why our work is so effective. Involving the client in the process builds trust. Their is no greater gift to be granted than that. Well, a fat check is always nice too.

6. Pay attention!
This is so important that it bears repeating. Listen to your clients when they are speaking. Have you ever had a client who had the attention span of a peanut? I have. These are the ones who can't go five minutes without taking a call on their cell. You have to imagine that these folks were about to spontaneously combust before cell phones existed. Here again though, they can interrupt our meetings any time they want. If they choose to use meeting time on the cell, that's their choice. Where am I going with this? Clients endowed with a short attention span tend to pack the really meaningful parts of their conversation into short snippets that can only be caught if you are paying close attention at all times. It doesn't kill me to rivet my attention on a client for two hours. What kills my business is if I don't pay attention during the critical moments where I need to learn about the client and their business.

7. Wrong can be right. Always look for the genius in your clients' ideas.
Sometimes I find myself kicking and screaming and cursing and moaning (silently of course) when a client forces me to pursue a concept that I know at the very core of my branding being is just wrong wrong wrong! But walk the path I must because my client is devoted to their idea and its birth into the light of day. I explore, I curse some more, and then something magical occurs as I relax and let my stubborn branding ego fall off the corner of the table. Their bad, wrong idea gives birth to a new concept, something strong and true and right that gives meaning to life and shines like a smile on the sun. In reality, client ideas are all born with the best of intentions. Sometimes a client's concept might seem too simple or just plain boring, but there is a reason their mind went there. They want to say something, but their creative expression may not be getting at the underlying concept. That's why they have us. When a client clings to a concept that appears to have no deep creative value, rather than rejecting it, look for the genius in it. Often times a client just needs to see a great execution of their bad idea to see that it was really not what they wanted at all. But even there, your great work will lead to the next round and can serve as a springboard for opening the client's mind.

8. Buy yourself a shoulder to cry on.

9. Another tact to consider when a client presses you to explore a poor concept is to go ahead and stamp your feet, wave your arms, and yell obscenities. Do it all you want, but make sure you do it solo, in the privacy of your own sound-proof office. When you're done, give the customer what they want.

10. Know when to say when.
If every idea your client has makes you grit your teeth so hard they shatter, it's probably time to refer your client to someone else. Teeth are hard to come by. Remember, though, that good clients are just as hard to come by.

Ultimately, every client comes equipped with their own set of rules. You need only decide if you want to play by those rules.

Learn more about the author, Kelly Hobkirk.

Comment on this article

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Aug 31, 2008

    With the focus of this article being specifically on those times when clients have poor ideas, I feel compelled to note that clients also have outstanding ideas much of the time.

  • Principal, Creative Director 
Lynnwood, Washington 
Brandi L Pierce
    Posted by Brandi L Pierce, Lynnwood, Washington | Aug 31, 2008

    Most clients like our ideas, but there are a few that really rock the boat. They come from a place of little understanding about what they need and what we are trying to do for them. I have had a good amount of scream sessions with myself over the years.. for some reason my ego just won't let me be passive about it.

    And I have learned how to screen clients as well. Some clients are a lot more savvy than they give themselves credit for and some aren't savvy at all, but think they are. It's really interesting to see.

    I love helping clients who ask for guidance rather than demand that their horrible ideas are good. The ones who demand things are usually insecure and are willing to take advantage.

    I really admire you, Kelly. You totally just put it all out there!

    I don't know about all of your experiences, but sometimes going the extra mile just adds more time to the workload and less money in pocket for one's overall time depending on the client.

    Of course, if I really like a client and they pay well or give me repeat business, then I go beyond the extra mile.

    Great article. I gave it a 10!

    B =)

  • Brand Consultant 
Phoenix, Arizona 
Ken Peters
    Posted by Ken Peters, Phoenix, Arizona | Aug 31, 2008

    Hey Kelly

    Good stuff. My only only counterpoint would be on the issue of giving the client all the credit when they don't deserve it.

    Professionals in the creative field are judged primarily by the quality of their ideas, creativity and imagination. It's our currency. If we acquiesce to letting someone else take credit for our work then we are diminishing ourselves and devaluing our profession.

    Great design is the result of a creative journey with visionary clients, of that there is no doubt. The creative process is best when it is a collaboration between dynamic people who inspire and respect each other. We all try to work with such individuals, but we all also end up working with the occasional person that's angling for a promotion, and who will do anything to take all the credit. It takes finesse to work with people like that, and to make sure that your value remains apparent to the people whose opinions really count.

  • Principal, Creative Director 
Lynnwood, Washington 
Brandi L Pierce
    Posted by Brandi L Pierce, Lynnwood, Washington | Sep 01, 2008

    Now I need to go read your articles, Ken! =)

  • The Contractor's Web Designer-Web Design, Photography, Videographer 
West Jefferson, North Carolina 
Kelley St. Germain
    Posted by Kelley St. Germain, West Jefferson, North Carolina | Sep 01, 2008

    Kelly,

    For me, it all comes down to your last sentence, "You need only decide if you want to play by those rules."

    If you are a good enough listener and observer, you can generally figure out those rules pretty quickly. Sometimes I get fooled, but not often.

    As a result, I decide how badly I want the job which directly effects how or even if I quote it.

    Personally, I do not like to work for mean, nasty people. Life is too short. I even believe that clients can be fired (for those sneaky ones that fool you at first but quickly become monsters). Luckily, I have only had to do this twice in 8 years.

    So, the bottom line for me is that customers are NOT always right. Most of the time, but not always. Sometimes you have to try to limit the damage (because obviously you don't WANT dissatisfied clients spreading vicious rumours about you or your company) and just get away. Doing this with style and grace (which sometimes means letting the monster THINK he/she is right) is the mark of a professional.

  • graphic designer :: professional problem solver 
Watertown, Massachusetts 
Dani Nordin
    Posted by Dani Nordin, Watertown, Massachusetts | Sep 01, 2008

    I have to respectfully disagree with the idea that giving the client "what they want" is the best course of action, especially if what they want is something that's going to be horribly ineffective for their business. While there has been the rare time when I've found the person I couldn't convince, as a professional designer whose job it is to make their company look good, I've found that if I do give the client "what they want" and, inevitably, it doesn't work - I'm the one that looks like an idiot because I'm the one who designed it. And I won't get the job next time.

    I agree that listening, giving clients the benefit of the doubt, etc. are all valuable things, and I do this extensively in my dealing with clients.

    But our clients are hiring us as professionals - ostensibly, as people who know more about this stuff than they do. If we willingly refuse to share our professional opinion when a client comes to us with an idea that Just Won't Work in favor of getting a paycheck, how can we legitimately claim the title of professionals? How can people trust us to do what's going to work for them?

  • Advertising, Marketing Communications & Promotions 
Renton, Washington 
Steven Matsumoto
    Posted by Steven Matsumoto, Renton, Washington | Sep 01, 2008

    I absolutely agree with everything you said here Kelly. Especially about letting your client take the credit. Our point-of-contact generally has a boss too, and that boss has placed a lot of trust in them. It is our sole purpose to make our point-of-contact look good and their company money.

    When we do these two things not only do we ensure our continued relationship with the client, but we also earn those valuable referrals.

  • Keynote Speaker, Event Facilitator and Trainer 
Seattle, Washington 
Leif Hansen
    Posted by Leif Hansen, Seattle, Washington | Sep 01, 2008

    Great advice Kelly, and hilariously written as well. As I read through #1 & #2 I anticipated the debate that might ensue. It seems a healthy tension to maintain. 1. I work for you. You likely know much more about your industry, your clients, your needs, etc. than I do. Stay humble. Trust. 2. You've hired me to do my best. I need to be honest with you, possibly disagree, possibly even lay down 'the law'. I know things you don't know. I need to maintain the integrity of my work, my vision.

    Sounds like a relationship.

    -Leif

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 01, 2008

    Hi Brandi- Clients like our ideas too, but often times clients have ideas they want to see developed as well.

    My strategy development works exceptionally well, so most of the time, our designs come out on top. Exploring a client's concept is a great way to keep the client thoroughly involved in the process and gain deeper insights.

    As far as going the extra mile effecting the bottom line, I'll pull a quote from 'The Big Lebowski', "Sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes the bar, well, it eats you." I think going the extra mile is something that gives me more personal satisfaction on a job. I always make sure to keep it profitable though.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Hey Ken- I can see you point of view on the client taking credit. I find that some clients will take credit when talking amongst ourselves, but they give us the credit in a public forum. They have nothing to gain by taking the credit publicly, and they know that our livelihood depends on the vitality of our concepts.

    Also, this article isn't just for designers. It can be applied to nearly any industry. Just about anyone can benefit from making a client feel a little extra special at one time or another without it being detrimental to their own business.

    I guess I have been fortunate in that I have never had a client take advantage of that type of generosity. I imagine that has to do with the client realizing the value of our work together.

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Kelley- I don't like working for mean, nasty people either! That made me laugh as I recalled a client who used to keep us under his thumb at all times. He was great, though, in his own way. He would lay down high praise on a design to his warehouseman, but then say, "Don't tell Kelly I said that. We don't want him to raise his rates." Then the design would win an award.

    I consistently find that when working with a weak client-derived concept, clients see the light and we do too. Here's an example: I just did a design last week for a long-term client who came to me with the concept, and right off, I could tell it was not well thought out. But he was insistent that this concept was what we were going to do. I asked a few questions, and opened his mind a bit, but he still rigidly clung to the idea.

    I did the design, adding my own elements to it to keep it consistent with the company's corporate identity and long-running collateral advertising campaign. He liked the consistency with the rest of the campaign, but did not like the rendering of his stated concept -- even though it was exactly what he had asked for. He even said, "This is a good drawing, but it's not what I want. I thought it would be more cute."

    "You didn't mention anything about it being cute when we discussed the concept," I said. He acknowledged that this was true, but wanted to see it reworked to be cute.

    I did a large revision to the central character in the illustration. It was exactly what he was after -- and importantly, the end-product is strong.

    If I had started the process by rejecting his idea, saying, "That's a weak concept, so let's do something different," the client would very likely have come to the next meeting with a tinge of frustration, regardless of how strong my concept was. Instead, he came engaged, provided valuable feedback, and together we were able to realize the underlying strength of his concept. We both feel good, and his company will benefit from the collaboration. I couldn't script a better working relationship than that.

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Dani- I see giving the client what they want as more of a collaborative process than a "lie down and take it" type of proposition. If I strongly disagree with a client, and I know deep down in my twisted branding heart that it will lead to a negative result for all involved parties, I will as tactfully as possible tell them so. If they force me to do bad work, I will tell them exactly why I feel it is a poor idea, and I will relate how my experience leads me to that conclusion.

    Ultimately, the client has hired me to do a job. I always do everything I can to do my very best. At the end of the day, if I have done everything within my power to do great work, well, that's really all I can do.

    I would never thrust a client-demanded bad design out into the world with the idea that I am "just collecting a paycheck." I see no point in that type of work. There is a great book called 'How To Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul' which offers sound advice on this topic and others. I highly recommend it.

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Steven- That's a great point! Thank you for adding that.

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Leif- Your ability to condense concepts down into calm, meaningful, easily-welcomed summaries is to be admired.

    Thanks for reading.

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Thank you everyone for adding to the discussion with some excellent thoughts.

  • Engineer of Creative Identity • Author of "Identity Crisis!" 
Portland, Oregon 
Jeff Fisher
    Posted by Jeff Fisher, Portland, Oregon | Sep 02, 2008

    At times I've had to give the client EXACTLY what they want in order to show them just how wrong they are...

  • Brand Consultant 
Phoenix, Arizona 
Ken Peters
    Posted by Ken Peters, Phoenix, Arizona | Sep 02, 2008

    I must respectfully, but emphatically, disagree with the notion put forward above by a responder that it is "our sole purpose" to "make our point of contact look good". I find that statement startlingly lacking in self respect, on both the personal and professional levels.

    By allowing someone else to take credit for your work you don't just denigrate yourself as a person, you denigrate yourself as a professional, and that negatively impacts you entire industry, and everyone else in it who makes a living offering those skills and expertise. What kind of referrals or additional work are you going to get by relegating yourself, and your profession, to the background?

    I understand that in business this is just going to happen sometimes, and there might not be much you can do about it. Navigating these waters isn't always easy. I'm not saying you should jump up on the conference room table, stomp your feet, and shout, "I thought of that!" But be visible. Be in the foreground. Have the confidence and self assurance to say "good job" to somebody when they contribute, but also the self esteem to make sure that your contributions are known. Don't sell yourself, your profession, or any of it's other practitioners, short.

    Harry Truman said, "It's amazing what a man can accomplish when he doesn't care who gets the credit". I understand that statement, and there is a time and place for that kind of acquiescence. But I believe it's even more amazing what someone can accomplish when other people see and know what that person is capable of, and they become inspired by their excellence, and ask him/her to lend their talents toward achieving additional goals.

  • graphic designer :: professional problem solver 
Watertown, Massachusetts 
Dani Nordin
    Posted by Dani Nordin, Watertown, Massachusetts | Sep 02, 2008

    I'm with Ken on this one.

  • Executive Coach, Motivating Speaker, Leadership Team Specialist 
Olympia, Washington 
Tammy Redmon
    Posted by Tammy Redmon, Olympia, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Wow Kelly, did you ever think this article would pull forward this much passion from the readership? Especially over being right? There are definitely passionate Bizniks who are very clear on what lines they will not cross.

    I read through your article, thought it was good and there were points I agree with and others that don't fit for me. As any good article goes, that's the way it should be. What I found to be interesting is that on the point which has received the most colorful responses (#3) you don't actually say the client is always right no matter what, you say let them feel like they win if it is that important to them. In the end, the client knows who did the work. At least that is my take on the read.

    I think that people who have a need to always be right, whether they are providing the service or a recipient of one, are not going to be people that are easily swayed off their egocentric opinion. It is my duty upfront to identify if I wish to work with those types of people or identify if my attachment to the outcome is healthy for me and for the client.

    I serve at the pleasure of my clients. I am in it to see them get to where they want to go. period. I will not compromise myself for their goal and I will not judge them for it either. We work in partnership to co-create the desired outcome. When they are off base, or making a decision that may negatively impact them, it is my job (that's what they hired me for) to bring that to their attention. Just the same, it is my job to celebrate their wins with them.

    As for whether or not the point of contact (or lead-in) should be held to look good or not? First I have to get my mind around why you wouldn't want someone to look good who got you into the decision maker and...I do acknowledge those individuals who thought enough of my services to tee me up with their boss. That was taking a risk and I have a moral responsibility to be grateful for the champion and let others know that. Now, does that mean I am going to say the person does great work if I don't know that to be the truth? no. And I am going to be grateful for being teed up for the opportunity to gain a new client. It doesn't mean I am giving anything away or that I don't respect myself or my work.

    It seems some of the points have gotten Cris-Crossed in the discussion and I really love the lively banter.

    Good Article and Great discussion!

  • Credit Repair Restoration Seattle 
Seattle, Washington 
Paul Medrzycki
    Posted by Paul Medrzycki, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Kelly, great article. As a client of your's I have always let you think that all those good Ideas are your's. Everyone is a potential client.

  • Commercial Photographer 
Seattle, Washington 
Steve Sonheim
    Posted by Steve Sonheim, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Ken touched on the idea of collaboration between people who inspire each other and I have found collaboration to be effective even with the less inspired or creative. Often times the client's concept is flawed only because they can't articulate what they want it to look like.

    If I feel like the client is headed in a direction that seems inconsistent with their message I try to involve them MORE in the process. I ask them for more personal examples and have asked CEO's to make sketches or even direct the models. While this disrupts my proceedure, it fosters a deeper dialog and puts the relationship in front of the process. My assistant will often remind me that we are getting paid to HELP the client and helping sometimes involves teaching and often waiting for them to 'come full circle'. Obviously, the trick is to maintain your standards while letting others jump in to your process.

    If a client doesn't understand or feel like they need my expertise, and wants to take the credit for everything, I shouldn't be working for them. On the other hand, if it takes some extra time and patience to involve them in the creative process and treat them as collaborators the payoff is usually a long term relationship.

  • graphic designer :: professional problem solver 
Watertown, Massachusetts 
Dani Nordin
    Posted by Dani Nordin, Watertown, Massachusetts | Sep 02, 2008

    Steve,

    I think you've exactly nailed my philosophy on collaboration. I have no problem working with clients who might have a rigid (and perhaps ineffective) vision for their project, but I also believe that it's my duty as a designer to help them articulate what they're looking to communicate, and steer them in the a direction that's going to help them communicate that while being effective for their specific needs.

    And if a client can't accept or acknowledge my expertise and work with me on a collaboration, then I make the choice not to work with them.

  • Brand Consultant 
Phoenix, Arizona 
Ken Peters
    Posted by Ken Peters, Phoenix, Arizona | Sep 02, 2008

    Steve and Dani,

    Right on.

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Interestingly, Steve, what you are saying is basically the same as what I said, just stated a little differently. There is great value, for both designer and client, in the ability to take a weak concept and build into something powerful and compelling. If I can do that and make the client feel great about their contribution at the same time, all the better.

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Paul- Exactly. That gets back to never burning bridges. You never know which manager is going to branch out and start their own company. They could become a client. I have great clients I've gained from exactly this type of scenario.

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Tammy- You hit the nail on the head in your second paragraph. All great ideas start somewhere. My clients inspire me, and when they have a great idea, I want them to know I appreciate it.

  • Keynote Speaker, Event Facilitator and Trainer 
Seattle, Washington 
Leif Hansen
    Posted by Leif Hansen, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    80% of communication is non-verbal, as they say. 90% of what has been said probably would have been agreed with were it not for mere text. I see this so often. Yet, at least other interesting differences and ideas arise. -Leif

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Ken- I understand your point of view, and yet, my approach is different. It is important that clients know our capabilities, but at the same time, I choose not to compromise their sense of their contribution to the process. After all, my work would not be possible without them.

    Also, I think it is important to note that in promoting our capabilities as designers and writers to clients, it is important to keep our ego in check. This reminds me of a Kevin Costner interview in Vanity Fair, just after he reached such great success with 'Dances With Wolves'. He said, "People have no idea how much I am capable of." Then he went and made 'Waterworld.'

  • Brand Consultant 
Phoenix, Arizona 
Ken Peters
    Posted by Ken Peters, Phoenix, Arizona | Sep 02, 2008

    Hey Kelly

    If I was in Seattle I'd say let's get together and discuss this over mochas (make mine iced)!

    We're not really very different on this subject. Like you, I do not compromise my clients sense of contribution. Clients aren't the enemy after all. At my studio we value and respect our clients, and their input and ideas. Our creative process is a collaboration with our clients, and we couldn't do it without their contribution. Success is measured by the quality of the relationship, and the quality of the work that results. Clearly, it's similar at your studio.

    In any industry, client relations can be tricky at times. How you deal with these issues can make or break a relationship. And, realistically, there isn't a universal "truth" or approach. Some clients need more finessing than others. You have to take it as it comes, and be quick on your feet. And, yes, you sometimes have to be willing to just suck it up and not force an issue when doing so would be detrimental.

    My comments are not driven by ego or vanity, though I know some will interpret them as such. That's unfortunate. But I've written my responses in a way that I hope communicates that is not the point of view from which I am approaching this.

    For me, this is a question of ethics. We'd probably all agree that it is not ethical to take credit for something you didn't do. So, why then would it be ethical to allow someone to take credit for work they are not responsible for? You would be allowing your client to believe that his/her employee is responsible for work that they actually aren't responsible for. Is that ethical? Is it ethical if that person is promoted or advances based not on their own merits, but on your merits, which they took credit for? You get hurt, and potentially, your client gets hurt. Is it ethical to engage in a practice that devalues the contribution of your profession, and negatively impacts everyone in that industry? Do you have an ethical obligation to your industry to promote it's value, and further it's cause? Do you have an ethical obligation to your employees to ensure that their contributions are noted? Yes? No? A little? Sometimes? If it leads to more referrals for you?

    I may be over-thinking it, but that is immediately where my wayward mind wandered upon reading point #3 of your article. And, those are just a few of the questions you could ask.

    Anyway, I've got to get back to collaborating with some of those clients I mentioned. Thanks for the hot topic. And, as for Kevin Costner, let's at least give him credit for daring to do something big :)

    Best

  • Blogging Coach and Copywriter 
Seattle, Washington 
Judy Dunn
    Posted by Judy Dunn, Seattle, Washington | Sep 02, 2008

    Kelly,

    From a writer's standpoint, I just wanted to congratulate you on your writing style and tone here. More and more, the successful bloggers, authors and commentators are moving beyond mere information and making us think— and yes, sometimes disagree with—their opinions and advice. Nice job.

    You started with a rather controversial title so, of course, I want to read on. ("What does he mean, 'The customer is always right?'")

    You present some complicated ideas here. In the 16 years we have had our copywriting and design business (separate from marketingyoursmallbiz.com), we've experienced everything you've talked about, and more.

    In copywriting at least, it's always a balance between valuing the client's ideas and not "selling your soul." I've used many of your strategies, particularly #4, 5, 6 and 7.

    We were having a similar discussion recently over at the Men with Pens blog.

    I was talking there about sometimes finding myself playing the role of teacher. Often the client doesn't understand why you are doing what you are doing. In that case, I've taken to including notes, not so much to justify my actions because of low self-esteem, but rather to educate the client on good copywriting.

    Yes, it's more time-consuming to include notes with a rough draft, but often I found that the client was "getting it" more and more and it became easier to work with her.

    One must still consider one's professional reputation, of course. In the early days, when I would give in to a client because they insisted, I would cringe at the thought of anyone knowing our company had produced that brochure. I'm a little better at making my case nowadays. I guess that comes with experience.

    You have raised many interesting points. Like Tammy, I very much enjoy the lively comments that have ensued.

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 03, 2008

    Hey Ken, Ring me up if you're ever in town. Make mine a mint tea!

    Kelly

  • Producer/Musician/Writer 
Federal Way, Washington 
Bridget St John
    Posted by Bridget St John, Federal Way, Washington | Sep 03, 2008

    Trust and ego. The client doesn't trust you yet, and you won't put your name to something that you feel doesn't properly represent your fullest capabilities.

    So, the question that is here remains: Do you want people to know how you bend over backwards to get what the client needs, or do you want people to know that you are picky about who your clients are.

    In my opinion, as a client here on Biznik most of the time, Kelly is 100% correct. He's not saying put up with abuse, just please the client and treat them with respect.

    The most positive experience I had was with my editor on my music video. He was just as responsible for the creative process as I was, even though it was my imagery, my vision, that he was working on. I almost always know what I want when it comes to the creative process, and sometimes he did not always agree with me, but as he stated on those occasions, "I am here to make your vision come to life. It's your baby, your dream I want to help make it look beautiful. So, let's get working on what you want." I really grew to respect his opinions the more he showed respect to me as his client and listened to me as though he saw me as an equal. We became sort of like partners as our respect grew for each other and the music video became OUR vision after a while. He is now just as proud of his work and as I am of mine! In reality, it was our work.

    I understand the reputation issue, but again, it's really what you want to be known for with your clients. I would hire Kelly over those of you who said you wouldn't bend, because, obviously, you think I'm an idiot.

    To get respect, you must give it.

  • Owner - Seattle's Original Pole Dance Fitness Studio 
Seattle, Washington 
Krisha CatZen
    Posted by Krisha CatZen, Seattle, Washington | Sep 04, 2008

    What if what your clients want is to back out of a deal and get a refund? I have several students that pay in advance for 6-week classes and then don't show up due to their job schedule changing, or child care issues, or illness, or travel, etc.

    In each case when they ask for a refund or a free class at a future date, I explain to them that once they reserved and paid for that 6-week spot, they prevented me from selling it to some one on the wait list that wanted it. So I would be short their tuition and not be able to make up the money. But in most cases they still want a refund or free class even though they agreed to my no-refund policy when they registered.

    Should I let these people short me financially because of issues in their personal life? Is it worth that much to make the customer right?

  • Commercial Photographer 
Seattle, Washington 
Steve Sonheim
    Posted by Steve Sonheim, Seattle, Washington | Sep 05, 2008

    Expectations...

    I'd give them %25 off a future class. If they agreed to a no-refund policy they are just working you for something that is not your problem...

    I once worked for a guy who had this yellow line across the middle of his studio between the work area and the lounge area. "Clients stay behind the yellow line" he would say to everyone that came in. It was kind of weird and extreme but in a way it worked. It taught me to be upfront and direct with clients about expectations on my process and even on how I want to be credited for the project.

    I will do whatever the client wants...to a point. Talking about what that point is with the client is sometimes uncomfortable but it allows for clearer thinking in the long run.

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 07, 2008

    Krisha- I encourage clients to use a stated cancellation policy as part of their standard terms. That way, the client knows up front what happens if they have to cancel. They can make a more informed decision, and you can be better prepared for worst-case scenarios, should someone have to cancel. This also eliminates customers asking for refunds because they read your cancellation policy prior to signing up. I use different percentages that correspond with job milestones. I've had very few cancellations in 16 years in business (knock on wood).

  • Owner - Seattle's Original Pole Dance Fitness Studio 
Seattle, Washington 
Krisha CatZen
    Posted by Krisha CatZen, Seattle, Washington | Sep 07, 2008

    Kelly, I've done that but one better. No one can pay for and register for my classes unless they check a box on the screen that says they agree to the no refund policy and understand their tuition cannot be transferred to another session if they don't show up. Their credit card number and their registration will NOT go through unless they check that box.

    I have asked clients why they are asking for a free class or a refund after checking that box. Their general response is something like "I didn't know when I checked that box that my schedule would change" or "I didn't know when I checked that box that I would get sick."

  • Branding, Copywriting, Marketing, Websites 
Seattle, Washington 
Kelly Hobkirk
    Posted by Kelly Hobkirk, Seattle, Washington | Sep 08, 2008

    Krisha- This sounds like a case where you have to measure how much flexibility you want to extend, and may be a case-by-case discretionary thing.

    If it's happening a lot, I would review your text to see if there is any way to further stress the importance of the cancellation policy without scaring away clients.

  • Web Design/Developer 
White Rock, British Columbia Canada 
Lynne Robson
    Posted by Lynne Robson, White Rock, British Columbia Canada | Jun 09, 2009

    A wise friend once told me...the trick is to let the client "think" he is right...and when he is wrong, figure out a way to to correct him and then let him think it was his idea all along...

    The trick is figuring out how to correct him...

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