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Why the Customer is Not Always Right!

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Coined in 1909 by Harry Selfridge (of Londons Selfridges fame), the phrase the customer is always right is a popular one among businesses today. The concept is intended to evoke images of idyllic customer service where the customer is happy and the employee is subservient (but also happy). In truth, many companies are beginning to realise that the reality is far from the fantasy and that rather than creating perfection, the phrase actually engenders bad customer service. So, exactly why is the customer not always right?
Customer Service
Although it is unlikely that Mr. Selfridge intended the phrase to be taken literally, it often is taken literally and that can lead to more problems than it aims to solve. The key here is how your employees feel. By saying that the customer is always right, you are essentially telling your staff that they are always wrong an opinion that is likely to lead to resentment, unhappiness, and disassociation with a company that seemingly doesnt care about them. Allowing customers to always rule over employees will promote unfairness and will result in a lack of respect for employees from both the company and from the customers. On the other hand, recognising hard work, appreciating staff, and making employees feel like valued members of the team are established ways to increase productivity. It will also improve customer service. A happy employee is likely to have more energy and motivation when dealing with customers they will care more and will be more likely to help resolve problems when they occur. Make your employees feel valued and they will do more than what is necessary to engage with and help your customers.
The Danger of Abrasive Customers
The phrase the customer is always right is not only damaging to customer service but can also detract from other customers. When the customer is not always right but is complaining and bad mouthing you to other potential customers, this is bound to have a negative effect on your customer retention and hence your bottom line. Appeasing a customer who is wrong (and lets be honest, sometimes customers are just wrong and sometimes they are abusive) gives them an unfair advantage over both your staff and the customers who dont cause trouble in return for benefits. In other words, by blindly giving in and offering compensation, whether monetary or otherwise, abrasive customers (who arent necessarily right) are winning.
The Customer is Not Always Wrong, Either
Of course, removing the offending phrase from our vocabulary does not mean that the employee or the company is always right either. As employers we need to judge each situation on its merit and decide what needs to be done. If the customer is right in their complaint but the blame does not lie with the company you should still rectify their situation and offer excellent customer service. Likewise, if the fault lies with you, you should go above and beyond what is necessary to ensure that the customer returns. Perhaps then that saying the customer is not always right is a little misleading too. However, by accepting that the customer is always right, except when theyre not, we can show that we value all our customers and our employees as well.

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