That well-known phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London. It’s a principle that many businesses try to adhere to, as it lets their customers know that they are always going to get good service.
But is the customer really always right? And if you believe so, have you considered what impact this could be having on your business?
In my experience, some customers have unrealistic ideas of what good service is. The simple fact is there will always be some people that you can’t please, no matter what you do, and I would argue that there is no point even trying to satisfy these people. It’s much better to tell them you can’t meet their expectations and send them to one of your competitors to deal with, thereby saving your own and your team’s time and energy for clients who appreciate what you do!
Here are the reasons why I think businesses should ditch the idea that the customer is always right:
1. It makes your team unhappy
Always siding with customers, no matter how unreasonable their behaviour, undermines your staff. As an employer, your loyalty should be to your employees – after all, you’ve recruited and trained them, and made them a part of your business, so you should trust them to do the right thing! Your team shouldn’t have to put up with abuse from customers. If your employees think you won’t back them in a disagreement with a customer, it will cause unhappiness and resentment. Your team are not going to perform well if they don’t feel valued and supported, and an under-performing team will impact on your profits.
Of course, there are plenty of examples of bad employees giving poor customer service – it’s something we’ve all experienced. People sometimes people have off-days and make a bad call, but trying to solve this by declaring the customer “always right” is counter-productive. It sets your staff against customers and management, and that’s not good for business.
2. It actually makes customer service worse
When you put your employees first, they will put your customers first. Showing your employees that you value and respect them will make them happier at work, and employees who are happy at work give better customer service. They will be more motivated, have more energy and enthusiasm and be more loyal to the business.
On the other hand, when management consistently side with customers instead of with employees, it sends a clear message to the team that they are not valued and therefore they have to put up with bad treatment from customers. When this attitude prevails, employees stop caring about service and they are unlikely to give genuinely good customer service.
3. It rewards bad customer behaviour
If “the customer is always right,” abusive and unreasonable customers can demand just about anything, because whatever they do, they’re right by definition. This makes your employees’ jobs that much harder when trying to deal with them.
It also means that customers that behave badly, shout the loudest and make unreasonable demands will get better treatment and conditions than customers that behave like nice, normal, reasonable people. So you’re actually encouraging the bad customers and discouraging the good ones – and that can’t be right!
4. Some customers just aren’t worth the hassle
Most business owners believe that the more customers they have the better, and are scared of losing custom. But the truth is that some customers are quite simply bad for business. Customers that cause unneccessary upset and aggravation to you and your employees are not worth having – they will take up inordinate amounts of your time and energy dealing with their complaints and demands, and their behaviour can even put off your good customers!
If you’ve tried your best to address a complaint and the customer still isn’t happy, maybe it’s time to move that customer on, and use your 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 these people are much better for business than customers who are impossible to please. Sometimes you have to accept that it’s worth losing some revenue in order to get rid of a bad customer. And by doing so, you’re making space for a good customer!
How is YOUR customer service?
In all of this, I am assuming that your team offer consistently excellent customer service and that legitimate issues and complaints from customers are dealt with promptly and appropriately. This means recruiting people with the right attitude and putting in place appropriate procedures and training. If you don’t have this, you’re already on the back foot!
And if you don’t know, maybe you should ask your customers for some feedback?
So go on, take ACTION and assess your customer service standards. If you find any challenges in your business or would like some fresh ideas, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us, or book a place at or next Customer Mastery Workshop!