The old adage “the customer is always right” has been a persistent one and shapes the way many businesses operate. But is this statement accurate? Right Angle Studio's strategy and insights director Barrie Barton doesn’t think so.
Screaming people image at Shuttershock.
Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos was famous for bringing an empty chair to meetings to represent the customer. It served as a reminder to staff that they must always consider the customer when it comes to everything they do in the company.
While customers are crucial to every organisation, what they say cannot be treated as gospel, according to Barton.
“Not all opinions are created equal and you’ll die an early death if you listen to everybody — especially the wrong people,” Barton said at Seek.com.au’s Leading The Product conference. “Being a visionary today is really about choosing what opinions to value and knowing how to value them.”
Right Angle Studio began life in 2005 and started a string of successful businesses including online city guide The Thousands, Melbourne’s Rooftop Cinema and Sydney’s Golden Age Cinema & Bar. It has since moved on to providing creative services to brands such as Mirvac, Tourism Victoria and the Commonwealth Bank.
Barton has been at Right Angle Studio since the beginning and dealing with clients is just an everyday part of life for him. There is always the pressure to pander to customer demands, but Barton’s stance is staunchly against blindly taking orders from clients.
“I think customers are very important but it’s how you position their influence and their information within the whole ecosystem of things you are looking at that is really important,” he said.
“Quite often, especially if you are part of a publicly listed company, the customer gets put up on a pedestal and that leads to some really bottomed out, average results.”
Barton suggests that consumer-focused businesses should allocate time to completely forget about the customer, be it half an hour or an hour, when you’re planning an event, a product or service.
“Let yourself off the leash and take them off the pedestal,” he said. “My theory is that if you do that, it will change your opinion or perspective of what is possible.
“I’m not advocating being irresponsible or rude to your customers. I’m saying to treat them in a different way; prioritise them in a different way. It’s okay to do that.”
Spandas Lui travelled to Melbourne for the Leading The Product conference as a guest of Seek.com.au.