Small Biz Advice: Is the Customer Always Right?


Holly Howard runs Ask Holly How, a small business consulting company based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn that works with a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to retail to art studios and pretty much everything in between. Her clients report increased income and profit, decreased expenses and a significantly better quality of life. Holly also heads up the Small Business Book Club at McNally Jackson Books which will meet on Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 7pm to discuss J. Keith Murnighan’s Do Nothing! How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader.
She also
teaches business classes at The Yard in Williamsburg. 

Got a question for Holly about running your small business? Email her and she’ll address it in her next column:

Dear Holly,
I’m a freelance photographer, and I shoot for a very popular magazine. In my role, I am forced to work with some very demanding creative directors whose expectations I believe to be unreasonable. Generally, in the course of a day, I can produce about eight good shots for a magazine cover, but they request I produce 12.

I feel like their demand for so many shots compromises the quality of the work. I don’t want to lose this job, but I also don’t want to put out work that I don’t feel is as good as it can be. How do you recommend I approach this situation? Please help.

Thank you,

Quality, Not Quantity

Dear Quality,
Sounds like this can be a pretty stressful situation. Remember from conflict comes opportunity, so keep that in mind when you approach this situation.

The first thing you want to think about is customer service. After all, you are being paid to produce this product so you must respect your customer, the creative director of the magazine.

I always cringe a little when I hear people say that the customer is always right. I don’t think that means that we need to blindly follow their lead. But, we do need to respect their requests and demands and do what we can to meet their expectations; or at least make them feel like their expectations have been heard.

In this instance, I would ask the creative director if you can meet to discuss the needs of the magazine prior to the beginning of the shoot. Stay focused and willing to do what’s best for them.

Really listen to what the creative director has to say. Many times, when we think we are in the right, we fail to really hear what the other side is saying, and we are quick to dismiss. This is a sure way to never reach a compromise. Listening is the key to good leadership.

After you’ve heard their side, explain your side as objectively as possible. Be detailed about what you would be sacrificing if you tried to take 12 shots versus 8. I’m sure when presented properly; the magazine would hate to think that they are sacrificing quality for quantity. After all, it’s the quality of the image that will sell the magazine. Give the creative director valid, objective reasons to accept your side; just because you say it has to be this way is not a valid reason.

Finally, consider if it is possible that you could compromise somewhere in the middle, possibly with ten shots. It’s good to know our limitations, and when we perform best, but when we are working as part of a team, we must be willing to stretch ourselves.

Good luck with this. Negotiating expectations is something that we all deal with when we are running a business. The better at this you become, the more likely you will be to build a lasting, successful business.



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