The customer is always right is a customer service attitude which leads to better customer service, but the statement itself is not the truth by any stretch of the imagination. In reality, customers are often wrong, and what they think they want and what they really need are very often not the same thing.

Apple took a shot at the Samsungs of the world, who are attacking Apple’s smartphone marketshare head-on with their over-the-top feature-loaded devices, with a two minute video during their Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June last year. In it they said: “If everyone is busy making everything, how can anyone perfect anything? We start to confuse convenience with joy. Abundance with choice. Designing something requires focus…”

Apple founder Steve Jobs is quoted as saying: “Focusing is about saying no. You’ve got to say no, no, no. The result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.” He also said: “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new” and “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”.

When Google introduced its now famous search engine, it wasn’t the first to offer search capability to consumers. Google’s home page had a lot to do with its appeal and success. They stripped back all the clutter and distractions and just gave people a search bar.

Google didn’t arrive at this simplified design by accident. It’s leaders had to stand firm against Google’s own creative and well-meaning engineers. In some cases they even had to defy the wishes of customers. Google faces the ongoing task of holding the line against complexity, which often involves being willing to just say “no” to additional features and have the guts to give customers less, even when they ask for more.

When Google surveyed users to see if they wanted more search results per page, they invariably said ‘yes’ (who wouldn’t want more results to choose from?). Google knows that offering more results will take longer to load, which will slow down and ultimately diminish the user’s experience, even if the user doesn’t realise this. Marissa Mayer, until recently the company’s director of consumer web products, said: “Customers often don’t understand the consequences of their choices, but it is our job to do so. We figured out that ten results per page is the right number. We don’t change that.”

Companies can and should encourage consumers to help them develop their products and service via feedback. However, it’s important to note that the customer isn’t always right about this, as Google has shown. People have a tendency to want more even if it’s not necessarily good for them, and marketers have a tendency to offer more in order to make the sale easier.

Back to the smartphones. So what happens when that feature-loaded product is brought home? Too often, people have no idea what to do with it. A recent study found that half the gadgets returned are actually in good working order, but customers can’t figure out how to operate them. With the cost of returned products in the United States alone amounting to $100 billion a year, sometimes less really is more.