Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of customer service related posts (go figure) and have been intrigued by this debate. There are those who believe that every customer is valuable no matter what, and should be tirelessly catered to. There are those who are willing to lose customers that cause too much trouble. And there are those who argue that sometimes a customer just isn’t a good fit, and should be “let go”.
I think there’s some validity on both sides of the debate â€“ though it’s never in the company’s best interest to belittle or provoke a customer. The Internet is too dangerous a place to needlessly risk pissing people off. That being said, the basic premise of “The Customer is Always Right” is wrong.
The phrase, made popular by 19th Century department store magnates, Marshall Field and Harry Gordon Selfridge , was merely a marketing tactic. It’s designed to imply that store employees are in a position of virtual servitude to the customer. With this mandate an employee should never speak out of turn or–gasp!–actually disagree with a customer, even if the customer is wrong or out of line. Despite the propaganda, this is no recipe for empowering employees to serve customers to their fullest abilities. Southwest Airlines, by contrast, gets consistently spectacular results by putting customers second.
And anyway, does the Customer is Always Right rule result in a rewarding experience for customers? Can you imagine a personal relationship where the one ground rule is that you are always right? Maybe you’re thinking, yes, I’d love it if my spouse finally conceded that I am always right. But let’s be real: there’s no room in that for a healthy exchange that leads to mutual understanding, growth and positive change. At the end of the day we’d feel patronized, even manipulated, if our loved ones only nodded their head in agreement after everything we said.
Frankly, I care less about being right and more about being heard as a customer. There is nothing more frustrating than a customer service rep who placates you by sending you down another phone tree rather than saying no to your request. There are times I’m in the right and times when I’m not. And I’m okay with that. But let’s have a conversation about it so that we can both learn and, together, improve the product or service. That’s how we’ll foster a meaningful relationship.