I was told not too long ago by someone that the year 2007 brought about a rather large change to the working masses. That change was that the number of service-based jobs out numbered that of production jobs. Now whether this is due to robots from the Robotic Uprising of the Late 90's, or that the majority of the population is too busy or too rich to worry about learning how to do things themselves isn't quite known. But no matter how you answer that question, an even larger one comes up, "Is the customer always right?" I'm sure everyone's heard that expression before — probably from working in retail or for some older gentleman when they were young — "The customer is always right, even when he's not." But in today's society of extreme specialization, can we still opperate productively by that same principle? Can we trust that the consumer (or client) isn't out to just get a superior service for an inferior price? And once we do believe the consumer/client isn't out to just get a deal, do we push for their education through our experience and expertise or simply give them that for which they are asking?

I work for a busy web developement and interactive marketing provider in South Carolina. Often we're confronted with clients who know what they want and only want it the way that they want it.
. o O ( was that too many wants in one sentence? ) Often I'm reminded of a quote a fellow colleague has on his desk and an article written by unknown author that tries to compare web developers to architects (which we really are, in some aspects). The only problem is that the typical website consumer treats webdesign as something they could do if they weren't so busy whereas they treat architure as if it is art and only a few people can successfully do it. I wish sometimes these people would try to develop a simple form to capture 4 fields from a user and have it display correctly across the major browsers (IE6, IE7, Firefox 2, Safari) in a fullly CSS, valid site layout and them come tell us that our jobs are easy and any one can do them.

But I digress, back to the problem at hand: Is the customer always right? Let's take for instance a client I've dealt with on just this exact type of thing. They have a store system they use to sell products and services. During the checkout process, you're giving the option to add discount codes and serial numbers. The form isn't the most intuitive, so we had two buttons to update the cart subtotals; one button on the left and another on the right. From past dealings with this client, I thought it would be a good idea to track the number of times each button was used so we could later compare it to page views to see which one was used more often. The client disliked having two buttons and so decided they wanted to remove one. I quickly pulled up the stats and noticed that out of the 60-ish pageviews in the 14 overnight hours this had been up, 25 people used the button on the left and 26 used the button on the right. Now with a bit of stretching, we can assume that each pageview is a new potential customer and that each button click was only done by one potential customer. That means that 85% of the potential customers used one of those two buttons, and of that 85% pretty much one button was used 50% of the time and the other one 50% of the time. Throughout our dealings with what people on the web are like, we've noticed that no two users navigate a page exactly the same. So in order to catch personality A and personality D, we need both those buttons there. But the client decided to remove one while stating, "I don't really care what your numbers say. It's confusing for me to have two buttons there, so remove the one on the left."

Sure, the client was solely in the wrong here, but we ended up taking that button off. Was this a fight we should have given up on as easily as we did? Can we really allow a client to dictate to us what they want on their sites when our expertise throws the penatly flag at them? Can we really even afford to do so, especially on ecommerce sites, when we can only continue to get paid if the product does well and sells? Was this customer/client right? I really think they weren't and believe that their sales are suffering from it.