It was a hard concept for me to accept when I was first introduced to the working world having taken on a part time job as a grocery sacker working evenings and weekends after attending high school all day. Tired from the rigorous demands of school and stress of being a teenager I wasn’t in any mood at the end of the day to hear some petty complaint from a customer and show compassion. The owner of the grocery store, Harvey, would get visibly upset and come running over when he saw there was a conflict and try to smooth the situation over with the customer. When the customer left I’d get a verbal lashing for not giving the customer what they wanted. I tried to explains, “But they were switching prices on the meat package so they would only pay $1.50 instead of $5.00 for the package of meat.” Harvey would say, “I don’t care, the customer is always right … even when they are wrong.”
Upon graduating from college I took a job at a sporting good store. I assumed it would just be temporary to pay the bills until I found something in my field. For a young man, working around sporting good and getting paid for it was a dream come true and a temporary job became a permanent job very quickly. As my tenure at the store grew, so did my responsibility and I very quickly found myself in the position of department manager and I again found myself in the position of having to appease disgruntled customers. In most cases it was easy to rectify the problem but in others I struggled at giving a customer what they were requesting when I knew it wasn’t right. In one such instance the customer stormed out of the store and called the cooperate headquarters. In short order I received a call from the district manager wanting to know why I didn’t give the customer what they wanted to make them happy. I explained, “They had been in last week looking to rent a tent and we informed the customer that we didn’t rent tents so they purchased one and now they are trying to return it for a refund and it is obviously used.” The district manager said, “I don’t care, the customer is always right … even when they’re wrong.”
Feeling that I had more capabilities in life than to work retail, I went to business school with the goal of obtaining a Masters Degree. Sitting in class after class listening to professors talk about successful companies like Nordstrom, who would purposely sell two different size shoes to a customer just to make them happy made me stop and think. While I had no intention of getting back into retail I wondered how I could use the information I’m learning in a career after graduation. It took time, but after much thought I began to realize that the definition of “customer” can be very broad to include anybody we come in contact with in life. Just think how much easier conversations with be with co-workers, family and friends if we viewed them as a customer. A customer is always right … even when they’re wrong.
When I got into the commercial real estate business in Denver I thought I wouldn’t be dealing so much with disgruntled customers. Boy was I wrong! There seems to be a disproportionate number of unhappy customers in real estate transactions. Mind you, they weren’t unhappy with me, they were unhappy with the situation they were in. Looking to lease or buy a building for investment or business use only to find that nothing on the market met their needs completely or that everything on the market was priced well above what they were willing or capable of paying. Instead of adjusting their expectations to the market the customer would expect me to continue looking for that one property that was the perfect fit or was for some reason way underpriced. While instinctively I wanted to tell the customer that this would be a waste of time, I remembered that the customer is always right … even when they are wrong. In stead of telling them there wasn’t anything I could do for them I would look for an alternative approached to accommodate their. Working for a full service real estate firm I have more tools available to me than a firm providing brokerage services only. Knowing that there are times when new construction can be just as cost effective as existing, repositioning a property use while adding value can be viable or looking at alternative locations that offer the same logistical advantage can turn an unhappy customer into a property owner.
To be successful in both your personal and business life I suggest that you come to accept the fact that the customer is always right … even when they’re wrong.
CEO, Employing Broker
Katchen Company, founded in 1962, is an integrated real estate company with its corporate headquarters in Lakewood, Colorado. The company offers real estate development, redevelopment, property management, brokerage, consulting services, construction oversight and maintenance services to individual and institutional real estate investors throughout the greater Denver metropolitan area with satellite offices in Chicago, Las Vegas and Miami market areas.
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