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There’s a reason we don’t say “The boss is always right.”

Executive Summary

Is there any sentence more cherished and reviled than the customer is always right? We’ve heard it spoken by corporate strategists with total seriousness and by retail clerks with utter contempt. So let us be the first one of many to say, the customer is not always right. Once you’re done gasping and clutching your pearls, let us add a caveat. The customer may not always be right, but they are always your customer.

According to Gartner, by 2020, poor customer experience will destroy 30% of digital business projects. How did we get to this state, where so many projects are conceived, developed, and launched into a customer-less vacuum?

Perhaps it’s because, for many execution-level employees, their most important stakeholder is not their end-user, but their manager. For many of us, a job begins and ends with a manager’s signoff, and a successful project is one that satisfies your boss (and your boss’s boss, and so on, I think until God nods, pleased with the middle management.)

But friends, let us not forget: there is a reason that the saying is not the boss is always right. If you focus only on what your boss — or your board — wants, you may very likely end contributing to Gartner’s 2020 statistic. In news that surprises no one, your boss is actually not the best one to verify if your project will be a commercial success or not. (Turns out, frequently checking in with customers is a much better predictor.)

Now, at this point, you may be sitting there moaning, “Yes, I already know my boss is an idiot. What do you expect me to do about it?” Well, first, control your urge to burst into her office screaming, “The internet told me you’re wrong and the customer is right!” We’ve tried that and it doesn’t work.

Who would trust the maniacs who actually use our products?

It’s important to start by understanding why having that inside-out mentality is so limiting. Your boss may be an expert in designing or building or marketing her product, but she is not an expert in using it. The reality is that if you’re working anywhere in the production line, your ideas and expectations are biased.

And, to add a bit of complexity, your customers are not rational. Unless you market a product exclusively to logicians (and if you do, are you hiring?), then your customers are a complex mass of contradictory opinions and messy human emotions.

Why did this person visit our webpage in the first place? (You might ask.) Why did they leave after only 3 seconds? Why did they delete our app? What was that person thinking when they ordered 6 feet of hair extensions and a gallon of bleach? Why am I cursed with this single-data-point view of my fellow man?

No wonder, then, that we revert back to our own thinking (or our boss’s thinking) when it comes to our work. Who would trust the maniacs who actually use our products?

You’re leaving a lot of potential value on the table by relying on internal decisions.

And so you optimise. You spend hours, days, months, years improving your product, your app, your messaging. And you see improvements in a few key metrics — metrics you’ve selected — but these are incremental gains.

The truth is, you’re leaving a lot of potential value on the table by relying on internal decisions. Because customer involvement is not about numbers in charts, time spent on your website, or interactions on your social media pages. It is about the customer, the actual person, and their behaviour, needs, and expectations.

The challenge is — how do you distil the many and varied opinions of your customers into something actually useful? And how do you get your boss on board?

The answer to the first question is simple: you get better customer insights, more frequently. (UserTribe can help. We hear they’re very good.)

The second question is a bit trickier. But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Ultimately, your boss needs to impress her boss. And there’s no better way to cover your ass than to show that you based your decisions on customer feedback. Because, as we’ve established, the customer may not be right, but your boss’s boss probably thinks they are.

As Bruce Ernst said: “Your website isn’t the centre of your universe. Your Facebook page isn’t the centre of your universe. Your mobile app isn’t the centre of your universe. The customer is the centre of your universe.” To that, we add: your boss is not the centre of your universe. Whatever you have developed, it is not about the boss, it is about the customer.

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