It’s axiomatic these days — The Customer Is Always Right. You’ll hear from all sorts of customer service gurus. But it isn’t true, and you need to realize that. What brought it home to me was recently re-hearing a radio interview from a decade ago.
Twelve Years As A Slave was a big movie, won some Oscars, including one for the screenwriter, John Ridley, jr. But this isn’t about him. It’s about his father.
His father was an ophthalmologist here in Milwaukee for several decades, retiring near the turn of the century.
He was told when the opportunity arose that Milwaukee was a good choice, “black looks good in Milwaukee” his friends said. How good? Well, upon arrival his car was surrounded by white youths who told him to go back where he belonged. Maybe the idea was a little oversold, eh?
But even in the face of a welcome like that, the man persevered. He found a job working with Dr. Hinz, a highly respected ophthalmologist in the city. He’d work half the day in the office of Dr. Hinz, learning the practicalities of being a ophthalmologist: how an office worked, how to set up, etc. Because of his successful practice Dr. Hinz was a good example for him to follow. And for us all, as it turns out.
This is where the part about being right I mentioned comes in.
As you might expect of such an ophthalmologist Dr. Hinz had a very successful practice, but some of his (white) partners in the practice didn’t appreciate that he had “that black” in his office. And they told him so. And from what happened next we all need to learn two lessons.
The first lesson you already are expecting to hear. Dr. Hinz politely but firmly informed them that he was going to run his office, his part of the practice, the way he thought best, thank you very much. And if that really bothers you, I’m sorry, but there’s the door. Feel free to find another partner, join another practice.
Everything we do and say has an impact, on us and our business. In his case, the good doctor was sure to lose some business and maybe even some partners if he stuck to his decision to employ the young Dr. Ridley. But the point we need to take away is this — the partners were wrong. And he knew it. He knew to give in to them would have also been wrong.
Your customers aren’t likely to come to you with requests so utterly wrong as Dr. Hinz’s partners did. But they’ll still be wrong. And you need to tell them so. You’re the one who knows, just as surely as that German immigrant knew that to chase away his young assistant would be wrong.
So you stand up and you show the way. You do the right thing. Because you’re the professional. It may or may not be that your customer’s business is riding on this; your reputation certainly is. Nobody but you and your customer knows what your customer asked you to do, but everyone can (and will) see what you did. Do the right thing.
That’s one, but I said there were two lessons to learn from this. What’s the second? The young black doctor only found out about the conversation Dr. Hinz had with his partners years later. While Dr. Hinz did the right thing, he didn’t talk about it. He didn’t stand up and scream “Look at me, look at what I’m giving up just to do the right thing!” The fact is, he simply did the right thing; didn’t even tell the young man he’d defended by doing it.
The right thing is the right thing. That in itself is why we owe it to ourselves and our customers to do it. Not so we can call attention to it, to be seen as great and wonderful, or even just as self-sacrificing and generous. We don’t do it for ourselves, for any reward. We do it simply because of what it is: the right thing.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)