The Customer Is NOT Always Right

I come from a family of small business owners. My grandfather opened his first store in the 1950s and operated it for many decades. He lived in an incredibly small town where talent and resources were scarce. His advantage? He had a small brood at home. My mom often jokes she cut her teeth on the checkout counter and took her first steps down the produce aisle. Her first of many jobs was bagging groceries even though that required her to stand on a milk crate. My grandfather understood the value and importance of providing excellent customer service. He never took for granted the fact that his store was the only one in town. He consistently served everyone the same and valued their business.


For as long as I can remember my mom has said: “The customer is always right!” I have no doubt she grew up hearing this all her life. I never questioned that mantra; I just took it at face value. After all, so many people preach this in business. It was not until I started working in the trenches of customer service that I began questioning this mantra. I understand the heart behind it is to provide excellent service. Yet is doing so at any cost really best for the customer and the business? I do not believe so anymore.


Obsessing over the little details and stressing about the customer experience is the most important part of my job. I have logged countless hours talking with customers, listening to stories, and finding solutions to pain points. I want nothing more than for every customer to have the best possible experience with our brand. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. There will be unsatisfied customers for one reason or another regardless of how hard you try.


I do not mind the nagging customer who keeps calling in hopes to get the desired answer from a different agent; nor do I despise the one who returns a product after several weeks because their inability to use technology makes them believe the product does not work. The customer I am talking about is the one who takes zero responsibility for their actions (or lack thereof) and places all of the blame on the brand, gasp! You know- the one who refuses to acknowledge they willingly purchased a product or service under full disclosure, refused multiple remedies to make things right, and then turned around and trashed the brand with nothing but lies? Are even they ‘always right’?


Recently I had a conversation (if you can even call it that) with a customer that left me frustrated. The customer initially reached out to our call center because she was upset about a product she had purchased. Her calls with one of my agents didn’t go well, so naturally the customer’s situation was escalated to me. Little did I know what I was about to walk into.


I reached out to the customer hoping to reach a resolution that would satisfy her and be a win for our company. She was rude, demanding, unreasonable in her requests. Now, did he have a problem worth resolving? Absolutely. Furthermore, I was prepared to explain her misunderstanding, which would have entirely fixed the problem. Yet, she continued to vent. Had she truly wanted a resolution, she would have allowed us the opportunity to fully respond. This led me realize some customers do not want to be helped they just want to make a big fat stink.


Now, was this customer right? No, she was flat out wrong! But my team still worked hard to ensure she had the best experience possible with our brand. Even though this customer was challenging, I gained valuable feedback by merely listening. I never acknowledged she was right and we were wrong nor did I throw ourselves under the bus at the expense at making sure she felt vindicated. I held my ground because the customer was not reasonable in her demands and we have great products. Sadly, she was incapable of taking any responsibility for her actions.


As hard as they are, embrace calls like this because gold can always be found in any situation. What I have come to believe is that although the customer is not always right, you should still work hard to give them a great experience even when they do not deserve it. Why is this important if they are going to trash your brand anyway? Sticking to your core value of providing consistent, excellent service to each customer is what will differentiate your brand. When everyone else is offering vanilla customer experiences, your brand will stick out. People are attracted to authentic experiences. The best differentiator is service and they will come back if treat them right, I promise. Although I no longer agree with my grandfather and mom that the customer is always right, I do believe they always deserve to be treated fairly.


PC: Unsplash


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