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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.
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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 That part is obsolete now, but at the time AD certainly saved me from a disaster.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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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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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...

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
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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.
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Platinum
Re: THE CUSTOMER
William K.   4/3/2014 3:11:15 PM
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L.M. You are certainly correct about "getting it in writing", which I learned after doing an independant project for a disreputable company and not getting paid. The place for verbal agreements is in the discussion of just what the contract will include and exclude, and making that discussion a friendly verbal thing is fine. Then the reading of the contract with the concurrence about "yes, that is what we meant" is not a bad time at all. And verbal requests for quotes on changes is fine as well. So there certainly is a big place for verbal agreements but it is very seldom in the final contract.

But I have, in my career, come across two individuals whose word and handshake was just as good as any written contract. That is a very small portion of humanity.

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.

William K.
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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.

tekochip
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Platinum
Re: Customer is NOT always right, BUT they have the money
tekochip   4/3/2014 11:16:04 AM
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WilliamK, I do the same thing with my customers.  "Yes, I can do that, but......".  On a few occasions I've had to go through with the poor suggestions so that they get a working prototype and can see the flaw for themselves.

Mr. Wirtel
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Gold
Re: Customer is NOT always right, BUT they have the money
Mr. Wirtel   4/24/2014 10:47:11 AM
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  I spent 5 years in business for myself doing design work on a contract basis. One of my best customers wanted me to design a die that I did not think would work. We argued a little and he would not budge, so I told him I appreciated all of his business, but I would have to decline this particular job. He saw that I was serious and said if I felt that strongly maybe he could look at the design again. He did and agreed to go the way I proposed. Everyone was happy.

Debera Harward
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Silver
Re: Customer is NOT always right, BUT they have the money
Debera Harward   6/9/2014 2:22:57 AM
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yes one should also have the art of communicating politely and in a very tactfull manner so as to convince the client and make them understand fully what they mean .

William K.
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Platinum
Re: Customer is NOT always right, BUT they have the money
William K.   6/9/2014 8:58:10 PM
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D.H., you are certainly correct. I have read a bunch of books on both management and business, and it turns out that treatnng folks right is claimed to be very efective. 

I have discovered a way to make people find thier errors in designs that almost always works, and very seldom puts anybody into a defensive mode. What I do is ask them how some plan works, since I am not able to understand the mechanism of it achieving the desired results. So when I use my lack of understanding, a shortcoming on my part, as the reason to ask for an explanation, It usually gets them to try explainiung it and mostly they find the problem. The one time that it did not work, the client came rightout and stated that he had no idea how the process was working or what the actual conditions were. The eventual finding was that the process was NOT working at all, and that the published data wa based primarily on wishful thinking. The really unfortunate thing is that I had spent over a week designing the machine for the proposal. The saving part was that I also convinced all that we needed to build an inexpensive prototype to prove the process. It instead demonstrated that the process was not at all close to what it had claimed to be.

William K.
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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.

Debera Harward
User Rank
Silver
Re: Customer is NOT always right, BUT they have the money
Debera Harward   6/9/2014 2:20:03 AM
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William, That is right that communicating correctly to the customer is not only good for them but also for the business and really works in creating excellent relationship with the clients . Because if we communicate directly and corrctly to the customer it helps to build trust .

William K.
User Rank
Platinum
Just a plain work of fiction.
William K.   4/23/2014 9:42:30 PM
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Right now I have a quite nice transceiver made by the Wouxon company, which I would be happy to be using, but that is not possiblke. The instruction manual appears to be a complete work of fiction, the programming process described does not produce the desired results, or any results that are useful. I find that some individual has published a fairly expensive document that provides working instructions. But I don't have that document, so I am out of luck with the nice radio. Sometimes incorrect manuals are a real pain.

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