Here’s A Novel Idea: The Customer Is Not Always Right

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. 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’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


    Exactly. Unless you want to produce a bunch of these:

      Wow. I was thinking of that Simpsons episode when I was writing the article. You a mind reader or something?! :P

    Two observations.
    Customers have needs and wants. They usually know what they want, but they don't always know what they need.

    The customer is not always right, but they are always the customer, the one paying the bill. You can choose to not take their money.

    I learned a lesson I live my business life by when I was working as a pastrycook many years ago.

    Our business had a "priority list" that went like this:

    1. The quality of the product for sale is the number one priority.
    2. The happiness and well-being of the staff is the second priority
    3. The satisfaction of the customer is the third priority

    If you get the first two right you will attract the right kind of customers for your business and the third priority will come naturally.

    Of course there needs to be intelligence applied to these simple priorities to make it work. Part of the "quality" of the product is making sure you are selling the right thing to the right market in the right place. Part of the well-being of the staff is to ensure you have staff who are suited to the needs of the business and who want to be part of the business.

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