Sometimes The Customer Isn’t Right!

Is the customer always right?

London department store guru Harry Selfridge first used the saying “The customer is always right” in 1909. Since then it has been adopted by many businesses worldwide. But is this saying as relevant today as it was over 100 years ago, or are we setting ourselves up for a world of pain by adopting it? In this blog, we examine if the customer is always right. While it’s true that customer satisfaction is a key factor in the success of any business, the reality is that the customer is not always right.

There are several reasons for this, including the big 4 below.

1. Misinformation: Customers may not have accurate information about a product or service, leading to incorrect expectations. In these cases, it is the business’s responsibility to educate the customer and provide accurate information.
 2. Unrealistic Expectations: Some customers may have expectations that are simply not feasible or reasonable. For example, expecting a $10 product to have the same quality as a $100 product.
 3. Demanding Behaviour: Some customers may have unreasonable demands, such as expecting immediate resolution of a problem without considering the time and resources required to resolve it.
4. Entitled Attitude: Some customers may feel that they are entitled to special treatment, regardless of the circumstances. This can lead to inappropriate or disruptive behaviour, which is not acceptable.

In these situations, it is important for businesses to have policies and procedures in place to manage customer expectations and behaviour. This may involve setting boundaries and being firm when necessary, in order to ensure a fair and respectful interaction between the customer and the business.

Putting the customer second.

Moreover, it is important to understand that the customer is not always right in the sense of always being correct. The customer may have incorrect information or may make a mistake, but it is the business’s responsibility to listen to their concerns and provide the best possible solution. This can help to build trust and establish a positive relationship with the customer.

Gordon Bethune, a brash Texan, is best known for turning Continental Airlines around from worst to first, a story he tells in his book “From Worst to First.” He believed that for a company to truly succeed, both customers and employees must be happy with the way they are treated. In his book, he makes it very clear that the maxim “the customer is always right” did not hold sway at Continental.

He believed that while customers were important, they were not always right and that businesses needed to have the confidence to stand up to unreasonable demands. He wanted to create a culture at Continental where employees were empowered to make decisions and provide excellent customer service, without feeling that they had to bend over backwards to appease every customer.

He implemented a system where employees were trained to handle difficult customers and were given the authority to make decisions in the best interest of both the customer and the company. This approach allowed Continental to provide a high level of customer service, while also ensuring that the company’s interests were protected.

Bethune’s approach to customer service was a key factor in Continental’s success, and his book provides a unique perspective on the importance of balancing the needs of customers and employees. It is a must-read for anyone interested in customer service and business management.

Gordan is quoted as saying “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.” 

So Gordon trusts his people over rude and unruly customers. I really like this attitude, because it balances out customers and staff. The “always right” maxim unfairly favours the client, and that can lead to staff resentment, and this can undoubtedly create hostility in the work place.

Why give abrasive customers an unfair advantage?

Honestly, does anyone really want to give a difficult customer an advantage? I would much rather lose a client today than create years of headaches down the track. By saying the customer is always right basically means you’re going to give better service to bad clients than good ones, and that just seems wrong to me. It should be the other way around. Some customers just deserve to be cut loose, and although it doesn’t happen a lot at Simply Print (because our clients are amazing), there have been a few occasions when we’ve said “I’m sorry, I just don’t think we can help you.”     

Bad customers creating bad customer service.

We’ve all been to that business where everyone seems to be high on happy pills. It’s obvious that the team members just love their jobs, and can’t do enough to help you. Can you imaging if a client came in and started verbally abusing them, and the boss just stood there and did nothing? I would imagine that they’d be a bit resentful to say the least. No one goes to work to cop abuse from anyone. So when the business owner makes an effort to side with the staff, it creates a feeling that they’re being valued, and this will flow through to even better customer service.

Some customers are just bad for your business.

Some people think that the more customers they have the better, but some customers are just bad for business. The amount of stress that an abusive or irate customer brings stops staff from doing what they should be doing, and that’s their job. Furthermore, it creates a feeling of low self esteem, and no one wants that at work. 

Perhaps Herb Kelleher from Southwest Airlines sums it up best, and you’ll notice I’m using examples from airlines here. This is because frequent flyers are among the highest complainers of any industry. All airlines have large numbers of staff who’s only job is to deal with complaints.

Herb makes it very clear that his employees come first – even if it means dismissing customers. But aren’t customers always right, people ask? “No, they are not,” Kelleher snaps. “And I think that’s one of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can possibly commit. The customer is sometimes wrong. We don’t carry those sorts of customers. We write to them and say, “Fly with somebody else. Don’t abuse our people.”

And some customers need to be dropped.

Getting back to Gordon Bethune from Continental, below is a section from his book “From Worst To First”.

A Continental flight attendant once was offended by a passenger’s child wearing a hat with Nazi and KKK emblems on it. It was pretty offensive stuff, so the attendant went to the kid’s father and asked him to put away the hat. “No,” the guy said. “My kid can wear what he wants, and I don’t care who likes it.”

The flight attendant went into the cockpit and got the first officer, who explained to the passenger the FAA regulation that makes it a crime to interfere with the duties of a crew member. The hat was causing other passengers and the crew discomfort, and that interfered with the flight attendant’s duties. The guy was again warned to put away the hat.

He did, but he didn’t like it. He wrote many nasty letters. “We made every effort to explain our policy and the federal air regulations, but he wasn’t hearing it. He even showed up in our executive suite to discuss the matter with me. I let him sit out there. I didn’t want to see him and I didn’t want to listen to him. He bought a ticket on our airplane, and that means we’ll take him where he wants to go. But if he’s going to be rude and offensive, he’s welcome to fly another airline.”

The fact is that some customers are just plain wrong, that businesses are better off without them, and that managers siding with unreasonable customers over employees is a very bad idea, that results in worse customer service.

Happy Employees Means Happy Clients

By empowering employees to make decisions and provide excellent customer service, companies can create a culture of success while balancing the needs of both customers and employees.

In conclusion, while customer satisfaction is important, it is not always the case that the customer is always right. It is up to business owners to manage customer expectations, provide accurate information, and handle challenging situations fairly and respectfully. By doing so, businesses can provide a high-quality customer experience while also protecting their own interests. Listening to client’s needs and concerns has always been Simply Print’s policy. That’s why we have two ears and only one mouth.

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