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Ernan Roman Headshot

The Customer Is Always Wrong

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THE CHALLENGE: We invite retention problems, loss of market share, and loss of good will when we consistently ignore big problems that gall our consumers... and assume that they must be wrong when they complain.

Although this challenge affects all marketers in all industries, I want to illustrate how important it is by looking at an industry that everyone is familiar with, as a consumer: The airline industry.


Most U.S. air carriers, though, simply don't care. Most airlines start from the assumption that customers who complain about this are probably wrong. They pack their flights full and have inadequate policies for dealing with issues arising from being the seatmate of a "passenger of size". They tell their employees to deal with these problems on a case-by-case basis, trusting that their (overworked) front-line service people can sort it all out. They can't. This leads to absurd situations like the one pictured.

The bottom line: Far too many U.S. airlines inconvenience and humiliate larger passengers and their seatmates. The horror stories here include this PR disaster on USAir, in which a passenger was forced to stand for seven hours during a flight because his seatmate took up two seats... and a travel nightmare recounted in a recent Dear Abby column in which a customer was sandwiched between two "passengers of size" for three hours.


Ask any dozen or so passengers about the best way for airlines to solve this problem, and you will hear a clear consensus emerge: People who take up two seats should be charged for two seats... ahead of time.

Back in 2002, Southwest listened. It is the only major U.S. airline I could identify that has such a policy in place. The Voice of Customer feedback I am hearing personally and reading online indicates that was the right call... and that the rest of the industry needs to do a better job of engaging with its own customer base on this issue. Notice that Southwest is number one in customer satisfaction the U.S. airline industry!


Are we asking our customers the questions that will help us uncover the most irritating problems they face... and their possible solutions? Are we listening carefully to the answers we hear?


Management's job is to create a culture that values customers, a culture that does not start with the premise that the customer is always wrong! We must recognize customer value and have systems in place to listen to, and act on, the feedback and needs of customers.


Check to see what industry leaders and other players are already doing to address the problems that irritate your customers most. If they're doing a better job of listening... catch up!

Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.
Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research.

Ernan was recently inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame.

Clients include Microsoft, NBC Universal, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

2010-12-08-ernan.jpgErnan was named to "B to B's Who's Who" as one of the "100 most influential people" in Business Marketing by Crain's B to B Magazine.

His fourth and latest book on marketing best practices is titled: Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend, and Stay.

Ernan is also the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing" and author of "Integrated Direct Marketing: The Cutting Edge Strategy for Synchronizing Advertising, Direct Mail, Telemarketing and Field Sales."