Is the customer always right?

By Dan Antonelli

Posted on Friday, April 21st, 2023

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The old saying goes “The customer is always right.” And I suppose, generally, in certain businesses, that might be good advice—to a degree. But how do you handle the customer who is clearly wrong?

What are they usually “wrong” about? Most of the times, their art direction for designing their sign, logo or vehicle runs contrary to what you, as the professional, should know is right.

So this begs the age-old question: Do you do the job as directed—giving them exactly what they asked for—even though you know it to be a bad investment of their hard-earned dollars, ultimately a poor advertising piece that is destined to fail?

Do you happily collect the check, do the job, and move on? Or, are you like me—one who obsesses over every detail of my clients’ image and will not allow myself to be pushed into a corner that I know is not in their best interests?

I suppose this obsession with my clients’ image could be a fatal character flaw of mine. I’m fond of telling my clients as we tackle their logo design that no one will probably care as much about their image as I will. No one else is going to be as upset as I am if I see them suddenly substituting something else for the secondary font I chose for their tagline in a Yellow Pages ad, or having someone in their office squish their logo horizontally in an e-mail signature graphic.

Clearly, at times it would be much easier to take their strange, doodled ideas, give them exactly what they want—and move on with my life. But most of the time, what they want is not actually what they need. They’ve come to us because we’re the professionals. And as such, we have an obligation to educate them about how and why our design solutions will meet their marketing objectives better than their well-meaning, but often amateur, approaches.

Too often, on Internet message boards I see photos of sign work and vehicle wraps that have almost no real benefit to the customer. And after the design flaws are pointed out, the sign maker will stand behind his work by stating, “That’s what the client wanted. I collected my check, and everyone’s happy…” I’m not too sure how happy the client will be six months from now when his expensive wrap has garnered nothing but the quizzical glances of other motorists struggling to understand the message.

For me the “I did what the client wanted” excuse is nothing more than a crutch for not setting the bar higher for ourselves and our clients. It’s an easy excuse for putting poor work out on the street.

Where it goes wrong

So how does this happen? How does the client relationship digress into the professional letting the layperson dictate design decisions? More often, the breakdown begins the minute they walk into your shop, visit your website, or maybe even look at your business card.

What your own image portrays, instinctively, is a representation of your company’s own capabilities, or lack thereof. While this may seem obvious, your clients have no reason to believe you are the professional if your own brand is not professional. If your image is a hodgepodge of disjointed logos and inconsistent color schemes, how do you think the client will expect you to treat their image?

For those clients shopping via the Internet, what does your website communicate about your company? While it’s nice that you may know a little bit about web design, most sign designers are not qualified web designers. That fact is often clearly and sadly apparent to clients who visit poorly designed sites. Their nephew, niece or guy they know “who does it on the side” is not qualified, either.

With all these things working against a shop, it’s no wonder they put more and more work out the door in which the “art direction” came from the clients. They’ve given the client no real reason to believe they are dealing with a professional, therefore the sign maker is not in any position to tell the client otherwise.

The simple solution

To put yourself in the position of being treated and respected as the professional, you need to take all the necessary steps to be professional in all areas: your truck, sign, waiting area, marketing materials, website, stationery, etc. Even the way you dress is important. If you make the investment in those areas, I can assure you it will pay significant dividends.

It doesn’t have to be extravagant, dramatic or fancy. It does have to be professional and consistent. It must clearly show that image is important to you—starting with your own.

You can then at least be assumed to be the professional. After all, this is what you do for a living. You’ll be on firmer footing to stand your ground when advocating your design solutions—and you’ll stand a much better chance of your clients accepting your ideas.

The detriments of having “bad work” out there

It’s important to remember that the more “bad work” that leaves your shop, the more likely your shop will be known for that type of work. While it may appear harmless to collect the check and move on, in the long run this is probably a flawed strategy.

Obviously, given the economics of today, some shops are going to need to take what they can get. But be careful about garnering a reputation for that work. My wise friend Rich Dombey once said, “If you don’t want to make any red Helvetica-on-white-corrugated-plastic signs, then don’t make any red Helvetica-on-white-corrugated-plastic signs.” •SC

This appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of SignCraft.


This is our 16-page sales brochure. It’s printed on 100-lb. uncoated stock, spiral bound, with a Velcro flap to close the piece. Each section is tabbed across. At a cost of about $11 each, it’s quite expensive. However, the amount of sales it has helped close make it one of my most worthwhile marketing expenses. None of my competitors has a piece like this. It really helps set us apart.

Wall prints:

These four 20-by-28-in. framed, mounted prints hang in our conference room. As we meet with clients, they can’t help but read about our accomplishments. Each of the four posters speak about a specific area of expertise. They were designed and written not only to tout our accomplishments, but also to show how those accomplishments benefit our clients. After all, the client’s main concern is what you can do for them.

Dan Antonelli owns KickCharge Creative (formerly Graphic D-Signs, Inc.) in Washington, New Jersey. His latest book, Building a Big Small Business Brand, joins his Logo Design for Small Business I and II. He can be reached at dan@kickcharge. com. Dan also offers consulting and business coaching services to sign companies. For more information, visit On Instagram: @danantonelli_kickcharge.