There was quite a lot of activity on Facebook over the weekend decrying the concept that ‘The customer is always right.’ No the customer is not always right, and sometimes you need to tell them that. The following story is true, but as they used to say at the start of The Naked City, the names have been changed to protect the innocent

When I was deputy MD of a medical advertising agency, we had a bolshie senior product manager to deal with. She had done pretty well, getting to be an SPM at the age of 28, but she was really chippie, a real ‘I’m a woman so work twice as hard to get half as far’ hardnosed banshee. We were working with her on the launch of a new product which, while not exactly a no-hoper, was never going to be a blockbuster and was effectively a line extension with a new indication. Since it was always going to be a tiddler, the budget was also a tiddler, so instead of wheeling in the big guns we assigned the day to day stuff to a relatively inexperienced account exec.

She made his life hell. She changed her mind over and over again, demanded stuff that was way out of the available budget, was rude to the poor bugger to the point where he was despairing. I took things in hand, and the next time he was due to see the client (who happened to be 200 miles away, so even a trip there was a hefty expense) I turned up in his stead. This in itself was enough to put her on the back foot, but little did she know things were going to get a bit more surprising.

‘Ann, how long have you been doing this job?’

‘I started when I graduated, about seven years ago’

‘I’ve been doing my job for about 14 years. The designer on the project has about 20 years tucked under her belt, and the copywriter can remember back to before desktop computers were widely available. You can therefore assume we know what we’re doing, so why don’t you stop fucking about and let us do what we do best?’

She was aghast. ‘You can’t speak to me like that!’

‘I just did. And before you do anything rash, you may like to know I have already discussed this with my boss, and more importantly your boss, and cleared this as a course of action. (That was a blatant lie, but she wasn’t to know that.) You need to stop jerking Mick around too. He’s working his nuts off for you. Give him the credit he deserves.’

It all went a bit quiet as she mulled things over, and she was clearly struggling with both her status and the form of words she needed. ’Yeah. You’re right. I have been a bit of a cow. Just do what you do best.’

Now that is known in the trade as a bit of a result. If the worst had come to the worst we’d have resigned the account. A certain degree of sycophancy is expected in advertising, but there are limits. There are limits in any service industry. Think about that before you next yell at some poor sales assistant in a shop, or take cabin staff to task on an aeroplane.

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