Every issue of Inc. gives us a rich opportunity to look into the minds and business practices of some of the nation's most interesting entrepreneurs.
This is especially true of the issue you're holding -- our annual listing of the 500 fastest-growing companies in America. Besides finding out what these companies do, which industries are hot, where the founders get their ideas, and the like, we get to pick the brains of a big group of ambitious leaders. This year, we asked the Inc. 500 CEOs about their most effective interview questions (CEO Survey: The Hot Seat), their capacity for risk (CEO Survey: Going Long), their biggest mistakes (CEO Survey: A Fine Mess). We also asked how they felt about the old saw "The customer is always right." Here's what we heard:
- "Customers over the last few years have begun to make outrageous demands. While we will do nearly anything to correct a mistake or to help a customer, it must be within the realm of reality."
- Sam Zietz, American Bancard
- "Some customers are unreasonable and treat our customer service agents poorly -- that statement does not apply to these people. We don't roll over and let the customer take advantage of us."
- Rob Tolleson, CPO Commerce
- "Even if they are wrong, we will help them see that in a fashion which allows them to remain 'right.' "
- Phil Friedman, Ward Media
- "Shock treatment around here for breaking this one. Our customers have too many choices -- certainly they are always right."
- Jack Wurster, Embassy International
- "There is only one boss, the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else."
- David Porter, Furminator
I happen to agree with Clate Mask of Infusionsoft, who said, "Right or wrong, the customer is always right." But wherever you stand on the issue, it's hard not to take note of the fact that as a group, only a scant majority (55 percent) agreed with the old rule. To my mind, that says a lot about the men and women whose stories fill these pages. They're freethinking and willing -- indeed, determined -- to defy conventional wisdom at nearly every turn. Take William Wang of Vizio, who built a $1.9 billion business by rethinking the way flat-screen televisions are made and marketed. Or Mike Fitzsimmons, whose interactive media company, Delivery Agent, has created a new advertising niche by taking impulse buying to an entirely new level. It's a remarkable group, and we've learned a lot getting to know them. We think you will, too.