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Villing & Company

"That Ain't Me!" - The Customer is Not Always Right

Years ago, I worked at an amusement park drawing caricatures – you know, those cartoonish drawings with big heads and tiny bodies. I was basically an art carny. Our job was to mock people with our markers. The more people we insulted, the more we got paid. You’d be amazed at how many people love to be made fun of. I think there must be an element of flattery to it or something. On busy days, they lined up, more than happy to pay. Here’s the drill: a customer sits in a chair while an artist draws them. The finished sketch is an exaggerated cartoon of them, not a portrait. The drawing gets a brief chuckle and ends up taped above the washer and dryer in the customer’s basement. It’s not complicated, right?

Most people got it because they’d seen it before, but a decent percentage of people did not. On one occasion, a woman informed me, with no reservation of attitude, that she wanted her picture to look real good, better than the last one she saw me draw. She also wanted to look skinny (she wasn't). Sexy too, with long hair (hers was remarkably short). And don’t forget to add sunglasses and red lipstick (she was wearing neither). Here was a person who had no clue what a caricature was, but wanted one anyway. What could I say? The customer is always right…right?

Moments later, I cringed as I revealed a sketch that was a dead-ringer for Beyoncé fleeing the paparazzi. She squinted at it, “Who is that supposed to be?” I opened my mouth to respond. She was shaking her head, “Well, that ain’t me.” I was thinking, of course it’s not you. It looks nothing like you. She glared at the drawing for a long time and then stormed off without paying. I figured that was a good time to head to lunch.

Reflecting back, I couldn’t help but think that some businesses in need of marketing services are similar to my confused customer. They want a website or video, but often lack a thorough understanding of how those individual media are used and integrated into their marketing plan (if they even have one) or how the content of each may differ in style from each other – especially in reaching their targeted customers. They may be experts in their respective industries, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are experts in communicating about the products and services they are trying to sell.

This lack of understanding can cause major problems and result in situations in which members of the agency team become merely marketing arms and legs, often executing inappropriate and uncreative ideas dictated by well-meaning individuals. The result can be an embarrassing product for everyone involved as well as a waste of resources since the product does not do its job nearly as well as it should.

This doesn’t only apply to the marketing industry. Every industry benefits from better educated customers whether those customers are businesses or consumers. So it’s important to do what we can to help educate them about our industry.

My awkward caricature experience was the result of the customer’s uninformed instructions that virtually guaranteed a poor end product. The reason it didn’t look like her was because she ordered it that way. From that point on, when encountering a similar situation I would always say, “Well, you know it’s supposed to be funny, right? It’ll be an exaggerated cartoon of you.” More times than not, I could watch their expression change as the light bulb turned on. They got it! After that, I was free to do my job well, and they were pleased with the end product. In a few cases it would prompt them to head next door to have a chalk portrait drawn, which was fine too. At least they better understood what was going on.

Great power comes from shared understanding. In the end, this will greatly enhance the likelihood of a successful customer relationship.

Filed Under: general

Villing & Company

Villing & Co
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130 S Main St, Suite 315
South Bend IN 46601

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