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Things often happen in threes, and today I have had three curly questions; one from a consumer customer, one a corporate customer and one a supply customer.

Is exemplary customer service about having ‘Happy Customers’ at all cost? Does a business need to do everything it possibly can to keep customers ‘happy’ – or is it a case of ‘you cannot please all the people all the time’?

I’m tremendously proud of RedBalloon’s growth, and the sheer quantity of customers we now are privileged to serve. Plus I am very aware that RedBalloon has been built by many people: customers, suppliers and employees.

I have really focused on creating the right team at RedBalloon and part of that included choosing a fabulous leadership team. I have never been a CEO before, so from the start I read as much as I could – still do – and continually learn from others.

In the very early days I read the organisations that continue to grow and thrive are those built on values with a shared sense of purpose. Plus a successful business cannot be dependent on any individual… and the leader cannot be a bottleneck.

I very much see myself as a mentor, and coach to those around me… but importantly I constantly use RedBalloon’s values to guide me through decisions.

My title CEO stands for Chief Experience Officer, which means I’m accountable for how people experience the business.

So back to my three curly questions:

The consumer has spent much time and energy phoning and emailing our customer experience team about her issue. Our team consistently and professionally acknowledged her concerns, and referred to our terms and conditions and fulfilled on them. The consumer has since written to me as CEO, asking me to ‘break’ the terms and conditions.

I suspect she will not be happy with my response:

“RedBalloon prides itself as being a values driven organisation. Our first value is simply ‘to do what we say we will do.’ As such we consistently execute our terms and conditions. This is often difficult when we also pride ourselves on our customer reputation. However, in the long run our customers and suppliers know that they can always count on us.

As the leader of the organisation it would be a bad example that I set if I were inconsistent in any aspect of our terms and conditions. It is simply not the leader I am. So whilst I know that I have an upset customer, I also know that on a personal level I have fulfilled on my promise. No matter how difficult that is.”

Would you have answered differently?

Now to the corporate customer – who also wishes RedBalloon to ‘bend the rules’ for his circumstances. He argues he has great influence and implies he will tell the ‘powers that be’ that he is not happy with us. Do our rules (and values) change because the potential audience, or fall out, is potentially much larger than the consumer issue? RedBalloon’s head of corporate drafted a response, and I quote in part:

“Considering the circumstances issue that you outline to us, it would place this particular voucher in a preferred position to others. The inconsistent application of our terms and conditions creates adverse consumer sentiment. We treat all of our customers as equals and are proud of our ongoing partnership with your organisation.”

Should a larger customer be given preferential treatment over other, smaller customers? Would you change the rules for one because they were ‘worth’ more financially?

Finally, the supplier. Without our amazing experience suppliers we would not have anything on the shelf to deliver to customers. So we have always considered our suppliers as customers.

One supplier is not happy with an aspect of how we are growing the business. His RedBalloon account manager has kept him informed the whole way, and – as all our team members do – is executing our growth strategy based on our values.

Yet the supplier has requested a meeting with me. Should an important supplier determine the execution of our strategy? What message would it send to the RedBalloon team if I ignored our values and chose not to support this account manager?

I’m curious to hear your opinion on keeping customers happy – and at what lengths you would go to. From this experience today, I ask you if the customer experience is one based on mutual respect? Or one based on doing anything, anytime for everyone? If I say the source of Happy Customers is having a Happy Team – then how would the team be happy if I overturned every decision they made, when they made those decisions based on our values?

Business is not easy. Choosing our RedBalloon values and living a business based on these values has been both tough and easy. Easy because our values have been like ‘guiding stars’ helping us make decisions and recruit people to build the amazing workplace I’m incredibly proud of. Tough when they are the final touchstone between you, the rock and a hard place and by living them you know you won’t please everyone all of the time.

I look forward to your insights.

Reader Interactions


  1. These are really tough questions Naomi. I think that your responses are correct in all three cases. In the long run, you are better off sticking to your values and growing as quickly as you’re able to while maintaining them. If you compromise your values to grow quickly, then they’re not really values at all.

    In particular, you have to stick your guns in the second instance. If you bend the rules for the large customer this sends a terrible message to smaller existing customers, and it also sends a poor message to potential customers.

  2. Naomi, firstly I love reading your blog as I know it isn’t a ghost writer, it is really you as I feel your words come straight from your heart.
    Re the happy customers and happy employees.With one small business (Builder) we put up a board Happy – Sad customers and the team (onsite and in the office) would write up on the write board what made customers happy or sad each week. It was great way of communicating with one another and so we did it for employees as well. The vision and values are the place to start but many businesses fall down in living these ideas.

    Great post!

  3. Wow what a great post Naomi.

    I think it’s an important thing to consider on all angles, and one that i should probably give more thought to here. We’re in the process of writing our “values” as we’re growing rapidly, and this gives me some excellent things to think about when considering how these are applied to our diverse client base.

  4. Hi Naomi

    Great blog, as always. You are an inspiration to me growing in my career (marketing), so much so your words over the past three years have encouraged me to start my own business which is both an exciting and nervous time for me (I will keep you posted, if that’s okay).

    For me, your questions are easy to answer, being that I would have approached each of your “terrible 3” with exactly the same approach. Though I can’t answer the larger question of why things happen in three – but it always seems to happen…

    I believe it is easy to sell your soul and appease customers who take the “customer being right” too far. But it’s not easy to stay commited to your convictions and values with the potential result of loss of income and negative comments in social media sites.

    You have grown your business with such amazing and unique value approaches that you have staff and clients and those, like me, who are inspired with your thought-leadership blogs; three people should never risk this and it’s a shame they have left you questioning your approach.

    I remember email you in response to a blog a year-or-so ago about you being a namby pamby manager. Lots of people question (and try to talk-down) valuing and spending money on R&R, but I prefer to believe that people like you will lead the business community to understand and ultimately result in a change of management and office style. I, personally, have been laughed at by colleagues because I believe in having “kumbaya” moments in the workplace and with clients, but I am sticking to my convictions, just as you have/are.

    So, I believe that you must have happy customers, but not at any price, and most importantly, not to the detriment of your values. You are the one that has built this business and you need to go to bed knowing you have maintained your core sense-of-self and valued yourself, staff and other clients.

    Remember, you’re amazing!

  5. This is a great post – thank you! Our workshop does specialist repairs, so we have a waiting list of about a week or so. We are lucky with our customers — most of them are great, but every now and again someone will ask us to slip their job in ahead of someone else’s and offer to pay more to get it done. They’re astonished when we tell them that all of our customers are treated equally and they have to wait their turn; it’s completely unfair to push a previous booking back in favour of someone with more money. It’s an interesting insight into human behaviour; we often wonder how many businesses this technique actually works on!

  6. I think, that we can’t please all the people all the time. But the thing is, that if you want your bussiness to be successful and you are eager to meet your ideal client, you have to try to do that. But the customer is always right.

  7. The customer always needs to be heard, acknowledged and responded to. But I don’t think the customer is always right. Sometimes they just don’t have all the information needed to see another point of view. I think unbreakable customer relationships come from mutual respect.

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