The Customer Isn’t Always Right

April 9, 2014
How do we influence building owners and operators without just telling them they’re wrong?

In response to my blog posts, readers often tell me I am “preaching to the choir.” That has been the case especially with “If It Ain’t Broke, (Sometimes) Fix It!” and “As-Built Drawings: Getting What You Pay For.” Several industry professionals—both engineers and contractors—have told me it isn’t the HVAC community that needs to pay attention; it’s the end users: building owners and operators. That, of course, begs the question of how we influence those people without just telling them they’re wrong.

Although we know the customer really isn’t always right, unfortunately, the Second Golden Rule states he or she who has the gold makes the rule. And that often trumps our attempts to effectively argue our logical and technically correct position on an issue, such as when a client/customer says a product or solution is too expensive. Are they telling us they don’t have enough money, or are they really saying they don’t see the value or think it’s worth the cost? Often, it is the latter, and our job, again, may be to convince them they’re wrong without just telling them so. When it’s about price, we generally need to demonstrate the value really is there, that it is worth the price, and that—because they already have said no—it’s OK for them to change their mind.

Perhaps even more awkward is a situation I had in which a client was intrigued with technology he didn’t really need and that was going to adversely affect his Energy Star score (the primary motor alone added nearly 54,000 kWh to his annual electrical-energy consumption). He invoked the Second Golden Rule and, against the advice of all of his consultants, myself included, bought it anyway. It did indeed lower his Energy Star score and, as a result, the number of LEED Energy and Atmosphere Credit 1 points on his project. The only winner was the salesperson who sold him the unnecessary technology.

The customer is not always right, and it often is our job, as professionals, to help him or her accept the best solution in spite of himself/herself, which, incidentally, is a task almost always more challenging than the design of the solution itself!