When you work in a service industry, we’ve all been told to ‘keep the client happy.’ Happy clients say nice things about you. Happy clients want to give you more business. Happy clients don’t call your boss and tell him/her that you’re being a horse’s ass.
And yet, yesterday I made a client very, very unhappy.
Because I told him that I thought he was wrong. I told him that in my experience what he wanted to do would backfire. I told him that one of his ideas was in poor taste. I told him that what he wanted to do was off strategy, would potentially do harm to his business, and would potentially harm the reputation of his brand.
And he didn’t want to hear it.
I knew within 15 minutes of the beginning of the phone call that I was not on solid ground. The client had already made his decision. Testing would prove whether he was right or wrong – and he really didn’t want to hear my opinion. And yet, I feel my job is to scream when I see something dramatically wrong.
He didn’t agree.
So where does that leave us? We’re doing what he wants. Plus we’re doing what we think is the right thing to do. If he is completely reliant on testing to make his choices, we have to trust that testing will prove us right or wrong. But that’s putting a lot of faith in 8 people behind the two-way mirror. How do I know that? The most famous campaign I ever created – the Verizon Wireless ‘Test Man’ campaign – came in second place in nationwide focus group testing. That’s when I learned one of the most valuable lessons in my entire career. The Chief Marketing Officer of Verizon Wireless said something to me that I thought was amazing. “Research on a campaign is but one data point. Our judgment is a data point. What we think will propel the brand forward is a data point. What will motivate our sales force and store employees is a data point. Our own history of what drives business is a data point. Research is a data point. An important one. But not the only one.”
I have never forgotten those words.
The other thing I will never forget is that research results are interpreted by humans. And humans make judgments on what they see and hear. Results are not always 100% factual. You can spin the results to get what you want. I’m not saying that happens often. But I’ve seen it happen. And in this case, it scares me to death.
What’s next? Research begins next week. There are 5 pieces being tested. And while I never want to make a client unhappy – I really think the research will prove that what our client wants to do is the wrong thing to do.
I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong many times in the past. But just as I knew that the Verizon ‘Test Man’ would be a huge success – I know that this project will be a huge failure.
My goal is to always make my clients happy. But I also have to be truthful. No matter what.