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 uphold, 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 frankly 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. 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. You can then save your own and your team’s time and energy for clients who appreciate what you do!
Here are the 4 reasons why I think businesses should dispense with 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. Your team should never have to put up with abuse from customers. 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! You need to recognise that if your staff 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, we’ve all experienced instances of employees giving poor customer service. The fact is that people sometimes have off-days and make poor decisions. Or it could be they haven’t had the right training or support. Whatever the issue, trying to solve the problem by declaring the customer “always right” is counter-productive. It sets your staff against customers and management, and that’s bad for business.
2. It 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 their customers instead of with their employees, it sends a clear message to the team that they are not valued. In fact, it seems like part of their role is to put up with bad treatment from customers. In this situation, employees stop caring about the business, 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 customers, no matter how far from ideal they may be. But the truth is that some customers are actually bad for your business. Customers that cause unnecessary upset and aggravation to you and your employees are not worth having. You will spend unreasonable amounts of your time and energy dealing with their complaints and demands. Even worse, their bad behaviour can even lose you 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. Then you can 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 genuine issues and complaints from customers are dealt with promptly and appropriately. This means recruiting people with the right attitude and putting in place suitable 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!