The customer isn’t always right

by Bill Cameron

The customer isn’t always right. That advice was passed on to me in 1984 by my employer, the owner of an automobile dealership.

At the ripe old age of 19, I thought he was crazy. But the longer I’m self-employed, the more this makes sense.

While most customers consistently deserve respect, eventually many of them need to be politely shown that they’re wrong.

If the situation is serious, sometimes ‘polite’ needs to go out the window and you need to fire both barrels at once. Subtlety won’t cut it. Occasionally, it will cost you a customer, but often, it’s no loss.

A common problem in our industry is a shipper/receiver that considers themselves an expert in our profession, which they clearly aren’t.

If you just nod your head and smile, the situation will escalate to the point where the working relationship becomes a disaster.

I have a few examples of how I’ve handled these situations in the past. In hindsight, some could have been handled better, but at the time, it worked.

Disagree at your leisure.

A shipper needed a load picked up in Hagerstown Md., and decided that since our truck delivering for it in Paramus N.J. was “the closest,” that truck could be dispatched. She was shocked when I politely but firmly assured her we’d get her load picked up, but not by sending a truck 350 miles empty.

We had other trucks that were closer. She foolishly believed that she was our only customer, therefore our exclusive reason for existence.

The same company had a salesman covering construction sites in the Greater Toronto Area. I would regularly call him when a new job started, just to get the lay of the land.

Calls were never returned. One day, a major mix-up occurred due to his incompetence, a situation that he attempted to dump on me. I easily caught him in his blatant lie, thanks to pictures he’d e-mailed that actually verified my argument.

I reported the entire situation to the general manager, including details about the unreturned calls.

Next came a call from the salesman, with his freshly reamed backside, asking if maybe we had a “misunderstanding?”

Time to fire both barrels.

I told him there was no misunderstanding; I understood him perfectly, and knew now exactly how to deal with him.

I reminded him of the lies he’d been caught in, and informed him that his non-communication hurt his customers – and no one else.

I also reminded him that he was doing a stellar job of getting on the wrong side of the company’s contracted dedicated carrier, who his future success obviously relied heavily upon.

My next call was to the manager, to report this conversation as well, before it could be embellished. End of problem.

One company’s Quebec customers hired their own trucks, and paid by volume. I saw loading slips for 94,000 lbs for four-axle trailers, and 97,000 lbs for B-trains.

I told the manager this was not usually legal, to which he haughtily answered, “not my trucks, not my problem.”

I enlightened him that a serious crash would quickly make this his problem and the overloads stopped.

Another customer had a truck hired with a multi-axle trailer and a piggyback-type forklift.

They asked if we’d supply a 53-foot trailer, now that they were legal, since their current ‘milk run’ carrier wouldn’t.

I told them the 53-foot would result in less usable deck, not more, because the 8-ft. wide piggyback would need to go up on the deck, not ride behind like it did on the 48-ft. trailer. The longer trailer would result in three feet less of usable deck space, a fact their current carrier, for some reason, had never explained.

Another customer was shipping lumber to locations 700-800 miles away. After the initial stocking order, our trucks weren’t used, apparently because our rate was too high.

I drove past one day as one of these loads was being loaded, and phoned the customer to inquire how much difference there was between the two freight rates.

Even though it was several hundred dollars, the customer was, at first, dumbfounded when I told him that fundamentally, our rates were identical.

I had seen the equipment the loads were being taken on: all steel 53-foot step decks.

I explained to him that with the additional weight we could carry on our 48-foot aluminum trailers, his cost per foot of lumber would be almost the same.

Not knowing a headache rack from a moose bumper, he hadn’t even considered it; he was acting solely on price per load. Another customer did the same thing, sadly more than once. (Slow learners, some folks).

They requested quotes for multiple loads to a job 1,000 miles away, which could move on any type of trailer.

We were never asked for a maximum payload; it was being awarded entirely on a ‘per load’ basis. Our price, based on 47,500-lb loads, was too high, and the job was given to another carrier.

When their trucks arrived, loads were cut back by over 10%, because this carrier was using reefers.

This occasion, followed by several suggestions by me that their proposals include payload, oddly, still hasn’t produced any changes.

So as you can see, there are ways to educate your customers to save yourself future problems.

Or maybe I’m just a wise-ass with no patience for foolishness.


Bill Cameron and his wife Nancy own and operate Parks Transportation, a small flatdeck trucking company. Bill can be reached at

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