Business Myth Busted: The Customer Is Always Right


by kadams

Anyone who has ever owned their own business or worked in customer service has likely heard the adage, “the customer is always right.” At first blush, the saying makes perfect sense. Without customers a company has no income, and with no income there is no company. It’s only reasonable to do everything possible in order to placate the customers you have and keep them happy, and as a general principal this is often a great guiding light to follow.

There is danger in absolutes, however, and there are times where the customer is flat out wrong, and a policy of caving to the demands of every irritable customer your company serves will do more harm then good. When seeking to meet the demands of a customer you should always ensure that doing so isn’t causing your company more harm than good.

Your Company Has Limited Resources

From time to money a business does not have access to a never-ending well of resources, and any resources you are devoting to the squeaky wheel are being denied to other tasks. This isn’t just limited to keeping you or your staff from completing other work, but also helping other customers. A system which takes the customer’s superiority as a given sets up a structure where it pays for your clientele to be rude and make a commotion. While the loud, belligerent customer is being helped, the quiet and respectful ones are left to wait as punishment for not being as rude.

Keeping One Customer May Drive Multiple Away

The term “customer service” can be misleading, as most companies are instead in the field of serving customers, not a customer. Often times keeping an unpleasant customer happy and as a consistent patron may prove to be costing you money. While you keep the income that one customer is providing, you lose out on the potential income of other customers who leave because they don’t want to be around them. This is particularly true of fields where your customers are staying around to use your produce, not just buying and leaving.

  • Bars & Restaurants: It’s not worth it to keep a regular at your bar who is constantly causing a scene or making others uncomfortable. For every one troubled customer you keep, two or more may choose to find a new spot the next time they head out to avoid the headache.
  • Fitness & Martial Arts Gyms: A gym member who makes others uncomfortable is almost always going to cost you money in the end by driving away other members. Particularly in gyms with member interaction, like martial arts. If a student trains in an unsafe manner and is increasing the likelihood of injury for teammates, they may lead to more lost money in freezes to injury than their membership is worth.
  • Instructional Environments: If your company relies on selling classes, keeping a student who makes others’ experience unpleasant is not worth it. You are not likely to be the only Paint-and-Sip or pottery workshop in the area, and students who find the trouble student unbearable may soon leave for a competitor.

Customer Interactions Shouldn’t Have a Winner and Loser

The biggest principal flaw in “the customer is always right” is the inherent “us vs. them” dynamic which it sets up between staff and clients. Creating an atmosphere where the staff is on one side and the paying customers the other is not conducive to a warm and welcoming environment, and that is particularly true when it is taken for granted that upper management will be on the side against the staff by default. It’s important to be willing to accept and respond to criticism of clients, but it is also essential that staff feel like their managers have their back when they have not done anything wrong, otherwise turnover will be high and quality of service will in-turn go down.

You Can’t Please Everyone All the Time

There’s sound logic in not fixing what isn’t broke, but total stagnation of policies and services is a recipe for stalling out. Sometimes you need to make changes and with changes there will always be somebody who has a problem with things no longer being how they used to be. Listening is important in customer service but avoiding experimentation just to avoid upsetting a client is no way to keep your business growing. The best approach is to provide quality service, listen to your customer’s complaints, but remember that sometime the customer is wrong.