The phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London, and is typically used by businesses to convince customers that they will get good service at this company and convince employees to give customers good service.
However, I think businesses should abandon this phrase once and for all — ironically because it leads to worse customer service. Source
For any relationship to work there must be mutual respect. The relationship between customer and service provider is like a marriage. If it is to survive mutual respect must be at its core. This mutual respect covers their time, knowledge and the contribution they make to your companies success.
One woman who frequently flew on Southwest was constantly disappointed with every aspect of the company’s operation. In fact, she became known as the “Pen Pal” because after every flight she wrote in with a complaint.
She didn’t like the fact that the company didn’t assign seats; she didn’t like the absence of a first-class section; she didn’t like not having a meal in flight; she didn’t like Southwest’s boarding procedure; she didn’t like the flight attendants’ sporty uniforms and the casual atmosphere.
Her last letter, reciting a litany of complaints, momentarily stumped Southwest’s customer relations people. They bumped it up to Herb’s [Kelleher, CEO of Southwest at the time] desk, with a note: ‘This one’s yours.’
In sixty seconds, Kelleher wrote back and said, ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.'” Source
Jayson DeMers, a contributor to Forbes / Entrepreneurs, gives 3 reasons why this is so.
How many times have you had to grit your teeth, take a deep breath and silently repeat to yourself, “The customer is always right”? This is a motto that’s drilled into every young retail or hospitality worker and has somehow made its way into the psyches of established business owners.
The problem is, the customer isn’t always right, and always thinking otherwise can result in a serious disservice to you, your employees, and your customers. Here’s why.
1. Unreasonable customers eat away at your finite resources.
You only have limited resources available to you; don’t allocate a disproportionate amount of them to customers who repeatedly cause problems. You only have so much time, money and energy to dedicate to customer service, or to your business, and an unreasonable customer or client can quickly eat away at the majority of it.
If you’ve tried your best to address a complaint and the customer still isn’t happy, it’s time to move on from that customer. Use your limited resources to address the concerns of customers who are willing to engage in reasonable dialogue with you. When you focus on meeting the needs of your reasonable customers, you build loyal brand ambassadors…and I’d rather have a bunch of these than throw all my resources at customers who are impossible to please.
In his book Customer Centricity, Peter Fader encourages business owners to focus on the customers who matter most: “Not all customers deserve your company’s best efforts. And despite what the adage says, the customer is most definitely not always right. Because, in the world of customer centricity, there are good customers…and then there is everybody else.”
In Tim Ferriss’ wildly popular and successful book, The 4 Hour Workweek, Ferriss recounts a personal story early in the book that details how he nearly hit his mental breaking point because he was trying to please every customer.
He soon discovered that a few customers were taking the majority of his bandwidth and causing the majority of his stress though they contributed only a relatively small percentage of the company’s total revenue.
His solution? He gave the clients an ultimatum: if they couldn’t do business his way, he didn’t want to do business with them at all. The result? Some of the clients changed to accommodate Ferriss’ requests.
Others refused to change, so he fired them. Ferriss’ mental overhead drastically decreased, and his business soared as he only accepted clients that fit his ideal customer model from that point onward.
The lesson here is to allocate the majority of your valuable resources to your good customers, and stop trying to please everyone all the time.
2. This mindset positions employees against customers and management.
If you’re lucky enough to have found employees who you trust and respect, don’t risk losing them by siding with the customer by default. When you tell your employees “the customer is always right,” you immediately position them against the customer – and the customer always wins. Source
If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple. Source
If you want to keep your employees happy and effective, back them up. Prove to them that you respect their judgment and opinions, and when faced with siding with your employee or an unreasonable customer, always choose your employee.
According to Alexander Kjerulf, author of Happy Hour is 9 to 5, happy employees lead to the best possible customer service: “Believing the customer is always right is a subconscious way of favouring the customer over the employee that can lead to resentment among employees. When managers put the employees first, the employees will then put the customers first. Put employees first and they will be happy at work”.
If you’re the owner of the business and the one supplying the service or product treat yourself as an employee. Look after yourself, your health and well-being and your family.
3. Money isn’t everything. Not even close.
We’ve all had customers or clients who have unrealistic expectations of what we can or should do to keep them happy. They demand – whether explicitly or implicitly – more of our time, energy, and resources than our other clients.
Don’t be afraid to cut ties with customers or clients who repeatedly make unrealistic demands or who consistently cause stress or friction. Rather than continually sacrificing your time, dignity and emotional health, focus your efforts on actively pursuing new customers or clients who respect your time and boundaries. Source
Learn from your unhappy customers and make improvements to your systems and clarify expectations. Let you customers know what you’re experiencing from the relationship and, if possible, alter your processors to accommodate them.
Do your best to resolve the conflict but if it isn’t possible then spend your time and energy finding a new client who will value you and your service.