The Customer Is Always Right: Is It Still True?

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Inci Vardar
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People have all kinds of fantasies. Mine is opening up a shop and refusing to comply with the customers’ demands with a simple “No.” I believe rejecting customers is the ultimate luxury a business can enjoy and also a shortcut to career suicide. Businesses need happy customers to survive and thrive. That’s why many businesses still swear by the motto “The customer is always right”.

Furthermore, in some cultures, the customer is deified. But no business needs to satisfy every single whim of every customer, especially when they are clearly unreasonable or wrong. That is not what good customer service practices look like, and being that customer-centric can do more harm than good for the brand.

Customer is always right is an old motto from another era.

The customer is not always right and never has been either. It is only a marketing phrase from another era that was somehow taken quite literally. It means that you should take customer complaints seriously so they won’t feel cheated or mistreated. 

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Since When Is the Customer Right Anyway?

According to Wikipedia, the term was popularized by retailers such as Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker, and Marshall Field more than a century ago. No wonder the term was coined after the Industrial Revolution when customers earned the opportunity to choose among various product and service providers. As the competition grew stronger, overall customer experience became a prominent differentiation point besides quality and pricing. So the business owners went the extra mile for customer satisfaction. 

But remember that it was easier to satisfy the customers back then. Greeting customers with a welcoming smile, giving them the benefit of the doubt, considering the good was faulty instead of blaming them for misuse, and asking for their opinions from time to time was more than enough to earn loyalty. They were looking face to face, after all. 

Customer satisfaction is paralel to customer is always right motto.

Customer satisfaction rules are still the same, but an essential difference exists. Before making a buying decision, we don’t go to shops, touch the fabric, sit on the couch, smell the lotion, or taste the cheese anymore. Today’s customer experience is totally different from the past and more open to misconduct, both from the brand’s and the customer’s perspective.

Can the Customer Be Occasionally Right at Least?

In modern online shopping, customers may have unrealistic expectations about a product, service, or delivery times. They may not have read the product details thoroughly or unknowingly bought the wrong product because of the computer’s color settings. They can misuse a product in ways that void the guarantee. Even dishonesty is a high possibility. We know that nobody is perfect. But then again, brands are no exception to this rule either.  

Today, customers have more choices than ever. It is only natural to assume they will choose the brand they trust best. Accepting every demand can earn a brand sympathy, but trust that leads to customer loyalty comes through honesty, clarity, and kindness.

Whether the customer or the brand is the source of the problem, the brand’s job is to acknowledge the issue and do its best to resolve it in good time. Acknowledgment doesn’t mean taking the blame at face value but being prepared to conduct the necessary investigation swiftly and reimburse if necessary.

Whether right or wrong, leaving a customer frustrated is not preferable. Even difficult customers can be managed masterfully and leave a positive feeling instead of disappointment.

Some customers are not worth your efforts.

Why Is It Important to Make Customers Feel Good?

Customers are the bread and butter of every business. If they feel good about their purchase, the services they receive and trust the brand’s support system, customers tend to consider the same brand for their next purchase. And customer retention is a powerful factor in running a sustainable business.

Furthermore, delighted customers can leave positive reviews and recommend the brand to their friends and family. These reviews and recommendations will not only improve success metrics but being recognized as a problem solver provides an edge over the competition.

So What Is the Harm in Keeping up with the Motto?

While giving frustrated customers a happy ending is usually good for business, it may not always be feasible. Some customers are too high maintenance to be profitable, and some are just impossible to satisfy. Complying with the rule that the customer is always right will cause you to experience problems in three areas:

  • Risk of negative PR 

Sometimes when you give a customer an inch, they can take a mile. And that inch of acceptance can be used against you in a public debate. Especially in social media customer service, where armies of trolls and hoards of opinionated people roam free, the discussion can easily get out of hand, and your efforts for resolution can result in unreasonable backlash. So before you respond to negative feedback or try to cheer up an annoyed customer, choose your words wisely.

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  • Management-employee relationship

When you apply the motto “The customer is always right” to your customer service department, your team automatically becomes a punching bag. There will always be abusive, unreasonable, and clearly wrong customers, no matter how hard your team works to put things right. Protecting those kinds of insufferable people will demoralize your customer support team and damage your relationship with your employees. Your team needs your confidence and support to perform effectively. Constant customer abuse, with no management to turn to for support, undermines quality employees, and they move on to places where their efforts are appreciated.

Support your customer service team against abusive customers.
  • Time spent on undeserving customers

Some customers take too much of your time and resources to be satisfied, and they can be just not worth keeping. Dedicating the majority of your time to unruly customers will cause poorer customer service for the more deserving ones. It will also demotivate the customer support team and hinder their efficacy. Remember that all customers are equal, but the ones who provide better Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) need more attention than others. 

Final Words

Even though the customers are not always right, they all deserve a helping hand in times of trouble – maybe, except for some ill-intentioned ones who try to give you hell at any chance they get. But an ordinary dissatisfied customer can provide valuable insights on what you can improve. Furthermore, thanks to exceptional customer service, they can even become a brand advocate who right the wrongs of other customers.

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