Is The Customer Always Right?

A couple of days ago I wrote an article discussing customer service and the lack thereof in many companies todayCustomer Service, Where has it gone?) and based on many comments and emails that I received from this article I think that it is safe to say that many of you agree that customer service is extremely important for every company and is something that should be a top priority for us all.  So while we all agree on the importance of customer service does this mean that we should cave in to an unreasonable customer all in the name of customer relations?

For years many companies have adopted the saying “The customer is always right” and I have always questioned if this is really an appropriate attitude to take.  As you know I am a firm believer in good customer service, but does that mean that every customer is always right regardless of the issue at hand? According to author Alexander Kjerulf  “the customer is always right” mentality was originally created by Harry Gordon Selfridge the founder of Selfridge department store in London in 1909 with the purpose of convincing customers that they will get good service and to convince employees to give good service, but according to an article that Kjerulf wrote (positivesharing.com) this actually may lead to bad customer service.

As I keep saying I believe in good customer service but I have never believed that the customer is always right philosophy, because what if they are not right? Let’s face it any of us that deal with customers on a regular basis know that there are all kinds of customers, just as there are all kinds of people; there are those that are easy going and even when something goes wrong they are more than willing to give you the opportunity to correct the mistake that has been made, then there are those that start off the conversation in a combatant tone and you know right away that this is not going to be an easy customer to please.

Every company makes mistakes at one time or another and if you are a high volume business you are going to be dealing with these issues probably on a daily basis, because regardless of how good of a company you are and how good of a product or service you are providing, mistakes will be made, and that’s okay as long as it’s not too high of a percentage and so long as you do whatever it takes to correct these mistakes and make your customer happy.  But there are those that are never happy, I remember my father telling me “You can make some of the people happy all of the time, and you can make all of the people happy some of the time, but you can’t make all of the people happy all of the time” and this is true.

When hiring people to serve as customer service agents, it is important to hire people that are not too thin skinned because they are going to occasionally have to deal with people that are rude, and sometimes even abusive to the person on the other end of the line that is representing the company that they just happen to be pissed off at. The question that a company needs to ask is how much abuse is too much, and they also need to realize that while it is true they are nothing without the customer, the same could be said for their customer service reps as well and don’t we have a responsibility towards the employees that work for us?  I believe that we absolutely do, and I for one have never believed that the customer is always right,  at my company you will not hear those words, what you will hear is “The customer is not always right, but the customer is always the customer” and what that means is we strive to provide the best service that we can to our customers and if we screw up, we will attempt to fix the problem to the best of our ability, but at the same time we aren’t going to give refunds and free stuff away just because someone calls and complains.  Many companies have a policy of terminating the call if the customer becomes irate and uses foul language and I think that is ok, because no one should have to put up with being harassed like this, including an employee.

It is important to create excellence in customer service, but it is equally important to not allow a customer to take advantage of you.  The customer is not always right and it’s okay to gently and diplomatically let them know that they are not right.

Joe Melle

Joe Melle has founded and ran several successful businesses, and has had an interesting career in direct contact media, call center operations, sales operations, customer service operations, customer retention, and quality assurance; he has written over 140 business articles, and serves as a part time adjunct professor for a university teaching business, marketing, and management courses to both graduate and post graduate students.Email Me

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