Show Me The Data: If Your Database Is Right, Is Your Customer Wrong?

Our data is carefully input, validated, audited and we have every reason to believe it is right. But if a customer disagrees with the data, should we automatically assume she is wrong?

As database professionals we need to be prepared for discrepancies and errors as well as customers changing their minds or deliberately misstating the facts. But sometimes the problem will be with our database in how we recorded or failed to record the order and its details.

I recently relearned that some companies value data over customer . My call to cancel a service order was not recorded. The company performed the lawn care service and invoiced me. E-mails to the president and phone calls to the branch office have been in vain. Why? Because the branch manager insists his database is never wrong.

How can we know when to rule against our own data? When can we quickly decide to lose revenue to satisfy a customer? I suggest that a good guideline is to set a threshold based on multiples of the average sale. If you are a b-to-c marketer and have an average sale of $5then the potential loss of future sales through customer dissatisfaction is likely to be $50. A wronged customer stung for $5 will tell approximately 10 others about her experience. If your average sale is $500 then the multiple will be much higher; 20 or more prospective customers will learn about your wronged customer’s experience.

The dissatisfaction of a customer increases in direct proportion not only to the amount of money at stake, but also in proportion to the amount of time invested in attempting resolution. Giving a customer the benefit of the doubt that they did in fact act to cancel an order, return the item the correct way or resolve the issue with the product or service might cost you that threshold amount. But not doing so will probably create a traumatized customer who will go to some length to deny you future orders from many other customers.

Low average sale businesses should yield quickly and give the customer what she wants. High average sale businesses should invest in a proper, investigative customer service function. If you cannot document that your database is right, assume that the customer is right. Even if the customer is clearly wrong, she deserves your respect to save the current situation and avoid creating a victim who will spread the word about your mistakes.

Even if your database is right, your customer may not be wrong. Up to a reasonable amount give them what they want, right or wrong. We need to remember that the millions of records we manipulate and model represent our relationships with consumers and businesspeople who are not going to give our databases the benefit of the doubt. Keeping that in mind can stop us from overemphasizing the value of our data at the expense of the customers – and sales — it represents.

Bill Singleton, president of Algonquin, IL-based consultancy Singleton Marketing (, writes “Show Me the Data” for the LIST & DATA STRATEGIES e-newsletter.

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