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Sherlock Ohms

The Customer Is Not Always Right

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naperlou
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Blogger
a rock and a hard place
naperlou   3/20/2014 5:00:34 PM
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Jay, you certianly were in a bad place in this situation.  It is sometimes hard to satisfy all of your customer's desires.  It looks like you were doing the right thing, but got caught trying to please the customer as well.  When I was at IBM I always wondered why there was so much emphasis placed on the announcement letters.  This is the reason.

networksguy
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Iron
Customers aren't always right
networksguy   3/21/2014 9:30:23 AM
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As a wise marketing person once told me, "the customer isn't always right, but the customer is always the customer".

If you have to deliver something, but know it shouldn't be used, do something like adding a comment to the layout that puts a "PRE-RELEASE TEST DESIGN, NOT FOR PRODUCTION USE" label prominently on the board.  If they really don't want to use it for production, they won't mind.  

I once saw a document distributed against the author's wishes; he added a watermark on every page that said "This document is incorrect.  Destroy before reading."  It got the point across.

William K.
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Customers aren't always right
William K.   3/21/2014 10:08:39 AM
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My sympathy in dealing with such a customer. I have had instances where designs needed to be sent for quotes before the exact dimensions were known, and every single page had to be marked "for quotetion purposes ONLY, positions will change, tolerances will not change". That was enough for most machine shopsto deliver a valid quote, and only one ever made a part to the wrong drawing.

And as for part prices changing and parts not being available, I inherited an instrument amplifier board design that used a very nice single sourced part whyich wound up not being available because the US military had priority and got all of them that were produced. So a total redesign had to be done, but this time I had a firm agreement with Analod Devices that the 2B31 would be available for an adequate time and in adequate quantities. That part is obsolete now, but at the time AD certainly saved me from a disaster. The engineer who designed the original board had left the company and I had to recover a few of his goofs. But the good recoveries did help my reputation there.

bobjengr
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Platinum
THE CUSTOMER
bobjengr   3/22/2014 3:10:55 PM
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Jay, excellent post.  I own an engineering consulting firm and have faced the very same demands from customers.  You are considered to be "hard to deal with" if you refuse and nervous as a cat if you comply.  In my case, the demands came from upper management to the project engineer, i.e. my client, and then to me.  Management wanted advance information so they could put together a sales pitch for an upcoming tool and equipment show.  I was caught in the middle BUT the big issue came when the delivery date slipped.  At their show, comments were made as to when the product would be available for sale.  We missed the date by 12 days but it could have been 12 years.  Management was incensed.  I lost the customer and lived hard for several months after that. 

 

Cabe Atwell
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Blogger
Re: THE CUSTOMER
Cabe Atwell   3/26/2014 4:32:50 PM
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You can't always satisfy every customers needs and unfortunately that lesson was learned the hard way. Something like 2% of customers cause 90% of problems...

Nancy Golden
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Platinum
Past Mistakes; Future Wisdom
Nancy Golden   3/26/2014 10:58:47 PM
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Great article Jay, and brought not just a little nostalgia back to me with mention of the 8051 - the microcontroller I used in my student days and the pin to pin compatible DS5000 that I had a great time with...rather than burning an EEPROM, it had NV Ram that could be loaded via a serial interface - a big deal back then.

I wholeheartedly agree with you on lessons learned but some of that comes through hard earned experience. In my test engineering days I learned the hard way not to set a projected project completion date until I checked the lead times of any specialized equipment that was needed for the test set. Checking part availability and having redundant sources are other lessons learned. If there is a change in personnel involved with the project, making sure that everyone is brought up to speed so that decisions based on erroneous data due not occur. Sometimes the customer you have to say no to is internal - which can have some unpleasantness to it, but is necessary and best in the long run, even if they don't want to see it.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Jay - I always believe we can learn not only from our past mistakes, but others as well.

Debera Harward
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Silver
Re: THE CUSTOMER
Debera Harward   4/2/2014 6:23:20 AM
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Cabe, yes you cant always satisfy every customer but according to marketor customer is always right never say no to the customer like its an old saying that boss is always right . But i guess these days this trend is moving and changing marketors and customer service industry is now focussing more on explaining the things to the customer and are working on how politely and calmly we can explain the customer that they are wrong without offending them and hurting there feelings .

LED MAC
User Rank
Gold
Re: THE CUSTOMER
LED MAC   4/2/2014 5:45:45 PM
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The customer is always right, except when they are wrong!   

The fine line that business/technical development folks must walk is to lead the customer to the correct conclusion and make them believe that it is their idea so that they will take ownership of it, and all without compromising the business opportunity.  The competition may not be so open about restrictions or performance shortfalls with their product and may have the (short-term) upper hand in winning business, but they make their own beds...    

I like the spirit of  the watermark  "This document is incorrect, destroy before reading."    I am constantly mindful of CYA countermeasures in the form of clearly explicit documentation.   You can stand your arguments (against liability) up on a printed and distributed document, but you cannot stand on a verbal agreement.  In my experience, there are very few gentlemen left to make honor-system agreements with.   If you operate on trust and good faith,  all will go well until something goes wrong and then look out!  Agreements are worth nothing unless they are documented!  

I've also learned that clarity of specification/performance capability is never the objective of a pure sales guy who only wants to book the business.   It is the responsibility, then,  of the noble design engineer to enforce clarity on the technical specification and make all capabilities and limitations highly visible to all affected parties.    If it isn't documented, it never happened!

 

William K.
User Rank
Platinum
Customer is NOT always right, BUT they have the money
William K.   4/3/2014 2:02:39 AM
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I have had customers who asked for a design that would not possibly work. I explained that I could do it for them but it would not work, and then showed them why. The next day our sales folks got a call asking for a price on the way that I had sugtgested, and a lot of thanks for saving them time and money. The resulting order was a lot bigger than the original, plus it lead to a happy relationship with that customer. AND it helped my reputation at that company as well.

William K.
User Rank
Platinum
Customer is NOT always right, BUT they have the money
William K.   4/3/2014 2:02:39 AM
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I have had customers who asked for a design that would not possibly work. I explained that I could do it for them but it would not work, and then showed them why. The next day our sales folks got a call asking for a price on the way that I had sugtgested, and a lot of thanks for saving them time and money. The resulting order was a lot bigger than the original, plus it lead to a happy relationship with that customer. AND it helped my reputation at that company as well.

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