The Customer is NOT always Right

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A customer care affirmation poster. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
A customer care affirmation poster. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

This is to comment on a popular misconception and start a debate about the issue as well. I grew up hearing a “the customer is always right” cliché. It never made sense to me and still doesn’t. Why?

Simple logic tells me that a customer cannot be right all the time. A customer is human. A human being is never always right. Never. Not the Pope in the Vatican nor the President of the United States. A customer is human with flesh and blood and has emotions. Human action/judgement are often clouded by emotion and prejudice. It is only natural that a customer makes wrong choices but corrective action should always be taken by the service provider irrespective of who is at fault.

I understand this cliché started as part of training for customer service representatives for them to put out their best but for how long can people parrot this absolutely illogical nonsense? To say the customer is always right is to assume that the customer would be reasonable, polite, rational, honest at all times. Is this possible?

Alexander Kjerulf, the author of the book Happy Hour is 9 to 5, has this to say about the customer is always right.

It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage

Using the slogan “The customer is always right” abusive customers can demand just about anything – they’re right by definition, aren’t they? This makes the employees’ job that much harder, when trying to rein them in.

Also, it means that abusive people get better treatment and conditions than nice people. That always seemed wrong to me, and it makes much more sense to be nice to the nice customers to keep them coming back.

Do not misunderstand me. I fully understand the need to offer the best customer service but that is only to the extent of how the customer handles him/herself. Is the customer KING? By all means. The customer is the reason why a business exists. Is the customer always right? A loud NO.

I am deliberately keeping out specific experiences handling customers but feel free to garnish your contribution to this debate, with specific examples.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Hello,

    My view on this is simple – The customer is always right when you are selling tomatoes.

    Once you move beyond the subjective and perceptive quality and freshness of tomatoes, the customer with patience, understanding and gentle persuasion needs to be re-educated, helped to appreciate and sometimes compelled to accept a different perspective.

    As a consultant, that is how I view things and make my case to my clients and customers. However, you have to be fact-driven to be able to dispute the age-old saying.

    Regards,

    Akin

    • However, you have to be fact-driven to be able to dispute the age-old saying.

      I just presented my argument on this debate and you still ask for facts? Perhaps, I misunderstand you.

      To assert that customers will always fall for your gentle persuasion and be willing to be re-educated is to over-simplify the issue. Are you saying you have never come across an obstinate customer? Not one? Consultancy might be a different kettle of fish. I will give you a context.

      A client asks for a website to be designed and gives specifications. Sometimes the specifications (like colour combination and trivial features like flashing text) are petty and useless but over the years, I have found out that is easier to meet their wimps and caprices than to try to educate them on what is best for them. But then, I always know where to draw the line as I will not want my name to be linked to a mediocre website.

      The question again is: Is the customer always right?

  2. All my years in business (and in teaching business principles), I have stood my ground in saying that a lot of our cliches are just meaningless chatter. I have refused to subscribe to many of them including the one under examination.

    Yes; it hasn’t always gone down well with people, but I’d rather stand with my head thinking straight than bend just to sound politically correct.

    The customer is always right? Perish the thought.

    Example: A customer orders a webhosting account. He is setup. Instructions are sent to him. He calls the webhost back to complain that their service is not working, and wants a representative sent over to his office.

    Of course, that only happens for a fee. And customer is unwilling to pay. But webhost gives him a phone call to walk him through the steps. Guess what – the customer had been attempting to use his Cpanel details to login to his email account!

    This was inspite of well spelt-out instructions mailed to him.

    Did you say the customer is always right? 😉

  3. Perhaps, you should have not made that comment about the Pope. A lot of people really think the pope is always right, faith-wise, and i agree too.

  4. Hello,

    I would say you read me wrong – I was supporting your assertions by saying once you are fact-driven you can dispute the age-old saying.

    When I am hired as a consultant to provide solutions, I am hired as an expert with expertise, if the customer does not want an expert then they should not hire me.

    Much as one does end up dealing with obstinate customers, I still see an aspect of educating the customer about what they should expect from me, what is negotiable, what isn’t and where we can compromise or if I should walk away.

    I was involved in desktop publishing in the 80s in Nigeria and was a consultant to a team of lawyers that produced the Nigerian Supreme Court Cases in 40 volumes – on the matters of design and its aesthetics, there is the customer perception and the expert view to things – in those cases, the customer is not always right and it does not mean that the expert is always right either.

    The ability to see that is your key to negotiating the best agreement.

    Regards,

    Akin

  5. Perhaps the phrase that should be used is the customer must always be listened to. The fact is, in the customer’s mind they are always right. If you listen to them carefully you can sometimes find a solution that keeps them happy without getting into right or wrong.

  6. @ Yomi, too many people do not like reading thus that problem with that customer.

    @ Finbar, I refer to the fact that he is human with flesh and blood. I mean no offence.

    @ Akin, Thanks for the clarification.

    @ Laurie, I do not disagree with you but I am only pointing out that the old cliche cannot be correct.

    More comments please…

  7. “The customer is always right” phrase is simply envisaged to mean that the customer is king. However, in this part of the world, stuff like this does not even exist in the lexicon of most businesses.
    Here, it is more like: THE CUSTOMER CAN NEVER BE RIGHT

  8. Y’hello,
    I do not entirely agree with that cliche. it gives unfair advantage to customers.
    Some of customers are just impossible and they are the types that are quick to point out that they are right even when it is crystal clear that they do not have enough information about what the bone of contention.
    Also, there are poor customers whose patronage results to more harm than good and it will be very unwise to spend valuable time attending to such customers. And here in Africa especially in Nigeria, it appears some people intentionally shop for abuse rather than the service.

  9. Sure, the customer is not always right, they can get stupid sometimes. What pains me the most is spending time and energy to write/publish a MUST READ instructions but they will not read. When their order is not carried out, they call and before u can say “Hello”, they’ve started screaming and threatening doom meanwhile, they did not do what they were supposed to do simply because they saw it but did not read cos they taught it’s not necessary.

    CUSTOMERS ARE NOT ALWAYS RIGHT!

  10. There is indeed a common misconception regarding this term. But if one was to meta-phrase this statement, and base their argument on that, it would be completely fallacious.

    I understand this cliche started as part of training for customer service representatives for them to put out their best ….

    Yes, it indeed started as part of training for customer service reps, and it simply means (as has been stated severally) that the customer is KING- truthfully so too.

    No matter how much “stupidity” a customer does exhibit, it behooves the service provider to be as “calm headed” as possible, and not get into unnecessary squabbles with the customer, (as is most often the case in this part of the world).

    Hence, “The Customer is always right” (rightfully) translates to this;

    “No matter how stupid or annoying the customer might be, try to put up with them, because they indeed are the reason your business exists, and also because The Competition is only a few feet away“.

    So “The Customer, trully Is Always Right”.

  11. @ laurie;

    …. If you listen to them carefully you can sometimes find a solution that keeps them happy without getting into right or wrong.”

    BRAVO!! I initially didn’t notice your comment. Spot On. Exactly the point I was trying to make.

    • I am not keen about getting into right or wrong. Any reasonable service provider would be eager to meet the needs of his/her customers. I am only attempting to debunk the illogical cliché. 😉

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