We are bred to believe that customer is always right and it is right to some extent. This article is to look at the flip side of the coin and look at “why customer is always right” is wrong.
I read an article a few years back that a frequent flyer of famous airlines was constantly unhappy with the operations or the service of the company. In fact, her constant disappointment and her frequent written complaints made her named as “the Pen Pal” in the complaint department. Her dissatisfaction varied from the assignment of seats, food, boarding, casual atmosphere or any other issue she can pin on.
The company employees often discussed her and one of them shared the story with me on how the last letter was addressed. Well, the last email was for the CEO so the company manager humbly pushed it to the CEO desk, with a note “This one’s yours”.
In sixty seconds the CEO wrote back and said “Dear ‘Customer; we will miss you. Love CEO”. Well, you may be interested in the company name, but I feel that is irrelevant to the point I wish to make.
The phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London, and is typically used by businesses to convince customers that they will get good service at this company and convince employees to give customers good service.
In my opinion from what I have faced, business should seriously consider redesigning the whole concept. Ironically this is one the biggest reason for bad customer service.
Here are the top four reasons why “The Customer Is Always Right” is wrong.
1: It Gives Abrasive Customers an Unfair Advantage
Using the slogan “The customer is always right,” abusive customers can demand just about anything when they try to rein the employees with their fury. This makes it very hard for employees to provide the right service. This undue advantage is been taken by most of the customer at some time in their life.
Credit card, for example, you get a late charge for your own fault, but you instead you call up customer service demanding how can they do it and ask them to reverse it immediately. Now how often have you done this?
Now since the market adapts to this, abusive people get their way and nice people are left out. This always seemed wrong to me and for me, there should be some way that nice customer can be given a better treatment.
2: It Makes Employees Unhappy
If you read about Gordon Bethune, the CEO of Continental who turned the company from worst to first, you will know he was always about the balance between customer and employees. He wanted to make sure both like the way Continental treats them.
Gordon was instrumental in making the company rise to the pinnacle of success and he carefully put his thoughts in this way:
When we run into customers that we can’t reel back in, our loyalty is with our employees. They have to put up with this stuff every day. Just because you buy a ticket does not give you the right to abuse our employees …
We run more than 3 million people through our books every month. One or two of those people are going to be unreasonable, demanding jerks. When it’s a choice between supporting your employees, who work with you every day and make your product what it is or some irate jerk who demands a free ticket to Paris because you ran out of peanuts, whose side are you going to be on?
You can’t treat your employees like serfs. You have to value them … If they think that you won’t support them when a customer is out of line, even the smallest problem can cause resentment.
Yes, there are bad employees too who give lousy customer service but trying to push the customer “always right” is counter-productive and abrasive.
Of course, there are plenty of examples of bad employees giving lousy customer service but trying to solve this by declaring the customer “always right” is counter-productive.
3: Some Customers Are Bad for Business
Most businesses think that “the more customers the better”. But some customers are quite simply bad for business.
Danish IT service provider ServiceGruppen proudly tells this story:
One of our service technicians arrived at a customer’s site for a maintenance task, and to his great shock was treated very rudely by the customer.
When he’d finished the task and returned to the office, he told management about his experience. They promptly cancelled the customer’s contract.
This is a good example of firing a bad customer. remember financial calculation matter less if you do not have a good team to run in the long run. I know it is a big decision but you have to take it.
4: It Results in Worse Customer Service
Rosenbluth International, a corporate travel agency since bought by American Express, took it even further. CEO Hal Rosenbluth wrote an excellent book about their approach called Put The Customer Second – Put your people first and watch’em kick butt.
Rosenbluth argues that when you put the employees first, they put the customers first. Put employees first and they will be happy at work. Employees who are happy at work give better customer service because:
- They care more about other people, including customers
- They have more energy
- They are happy, meaning they are more fun to talk to and interact with
- They are more motivated
On the other hand, when the company and management consistently side with customers instead of with employees, it sends a clear message that:
- Employees are not valued
- Treating employees fairly is not important
- Employees have no right to respect from customers
- Employees have to put up with everything from customers
When this attitude prevails, employees stop caring about service. At that point, genuinely good service is almost impossible — the best customers can hope for is fake good service. You know the kind I mean: courteous on the surface only.