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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

The Customer is NOT Always Right

Sometimes, the customer is flat out wrong.

We’ve all heard it thousands of times: the customer is always right.

The truth is that, on occasion, the customer is flat out wrong. The mantra of “the customer is always right” is typically used by organizations to convince themselves that they create an outstanding customer experience when the reality is quite the opposite. In the promotional products industry, many suppliers will scramble to please the most unreasonable request from the most caustic distributor; in the same manner, a distributor will bend over backward to appease an abusive end-user.

Simply put, a business model of “the customer is always right” is fundamentally detrimental because your customers are not experts: you and your employees are experts. Giving your clients what they want at the moment instead of what will help them the most in the long run will sabotage the relationship you seek to build.

While the notion of “the customer is always right” feels like the right perspective, it’s wrong for three reasons:

  1. Unfair Preference – When an organization’s mindset is only focused on a client always being right, it gives abrasive customers unwarranted preference. In other words, abusive clients will end up getting better treatment, more favorable terms, and superior pricing than clients that are terminally kind and patient. Rude clients can demand just about anything under the guise of “the customer is always right,” which makes it difficult – if not impossible – to truly ever please them.

  2. Bad Business – Some customers are simply bad for business. With competition in the promotional products industry at an all-time high level, it’s not easy to say no to a customer. When a client is consistently abusive to you and, more importantly, your staff, it may be time to fire them. This sends a message to the client that you have high standards for treatment and respect while showing your employees that you value them much more than a quick buck.

  3. Poor Customer Service – If you always put the customer first, by definition, you put your employees second (or worse). However, if you put your employees first, they will put the customer first because they will be happy. When management consistently sides with customers instead of employees, it sends a clear message that employees are not valued, have no right to be respected by customers, and that fairness isn’t essential. When this attitude prevails, employees stop caring about service, which makes creating an excellent client experience impossible to achieve.

One isolated incident of a customer being overly demanding or unreasonable isn’t a reason to part ways with them. However, when you focus on the false premise that the customer is always right, you end up choosing your clients over your employees, which is a dynamic that will eventually fall apart. Always focus on the customer experience, but if only one client is upset, it’s a mistake to assume you need to rework the entire experience strategy to address one outlier.

This doesn’t mean that you and your employees shouldn’t treat customers with the highest degree of respect and care. However, it does mean that you should place complete confidence in your staff and stand by them in situations where a client is being overly abrasive or demanding something that can’t be delivered.

Often, the customer is right, but the attitude of the customer always being right drives away profitable partnerships as you and your team focus on pleasing people who cannot be pleased. This leads to a mindset of creating short term happiness over the long term – and more lucrative – customer loyalty.

A better perspective is the customer is always right, except when they are wrong.

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