Is the Customer Always Right?

It’s the age old question in customer service. Is the Customer right? In 1909 Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s, gave us this mantra. Is this the case now? Mashable ran a great article about this topic last week. “Top 5 Reasons the Customer is Always Right is Wrong.” It’s a very interesting read and I urge you to go read it.

Many years a go a wise person, I forgot who it was, said to me the following. “There are people you don’t want as your customer. They will cause you more than you were ever earn off them in a lifetime.” I have always thought about this and realized they were correct. Over the years I have stressed this to people in my own business and in others.

You should try make your customers happy

You will want to make clients happy. This should be a goal of your customer/client service. However, you can’t over deliver on promises so you aren’t making money. You have to mesh what your customer wants and what you can deliver. Plus, you can’t have one client/customers taking all the time away from other clients/customers.

We should not reward Bad Behavior

One interesting point the Mashable Article points out is you are rewarding bad behavior. It’s the old adage that “Squeaky wheel gets the oil.” This can be an issue if you have a customer who has seen other people pitch a fit over something. They come and complain and be nice, expecting the problem to be fixed. But their needs aren’t met. I have learned the person who says “I will never (shop, fly, eat at) your business again” rarely follow through. The worst thing that can happen is people leave your business and not come back. And these are the ones who will rarely tell you why they are leaving.

One important thing I have learned over the years is you must hear complaints about your business. In order to be better you have to know where you are weak. It’s not always easy to hear. If done right and constructive. It can lead to a stronger business. That’s why it’s important to listen to complaints and see what is valid and what is not. Things you have no control over like weather, power outages and such. You can’t do anything about.

I have an example of this exact thing. It involved my online bill pay at a credit union. I had had my account for about three years with no issues. I never bounced a check, went over limits or even walked in the branch and complained. The bill pay for the entire month didn’t go through. I found it out when I was checking my balance before a trip. There was way more money in the account then should be. I had to deal with the financial institution and bill pay service provider. It took over a month to get resolved. The bill pay service had an attitude I was trying so scam them to get $59 in late fees. Which was all I was asking to be reimbursed. This also was the one time I forgot to save the “confirmation numbers.” I was told that there was a glitch in their system and they couldn’t verify anything I told them. Therefore, they denied the reimbursement of late fees. The financial institution said they couldn’t refund the money either. Also, that this was the first time they ever knew of the Bill Pay service to deny a claim.

After this happened, I was not very happy. It was not the Financial Institution’s fault directly. But, indirectly they were using a service that basically told me “We don’t care.” It made me leave that institution and take my business elsewhere. I was upset that my three year spotless record meant nothing to them. I only complain when there is an actual issue. As, many of you know, changing banks is a big process. After this it was worth it. The new bank gave me a lot of new services.

Focus should be on fixing complaints that make your business stronger

However, complaints customers come in different forms. They are from self serving reasons to deficiencies in your organization. Businesses need to focus on the later. The problems you may not see in your organization that your customers/clients do see. I always refer back to “There are some people you don’t want as your customer.”

Examples of problems

Wait times in lines – Wait times can be a big issue. You should know how long its taking for customers to be served

Pricing Issues – There is nothing more annoying to customers than having pricing issues that are more than posted. No, customer will complain about a cheaper price. If this is an on going issue it can cause real problems

Bad Employees – You may love your people. They may act great around you, since they rely on you for a paycheck. To the customers maybe a different story. If an employee is not holding to your standards, you must rectify it.

Business processes that make the customers life difficult – These are ones that aren’t regulated by government or industry. Those issues you can’t work around. If something you are doing that is inconvenience your customers. If you can do another process that is equal in cost and time, but increases customer satisfaction. It’s a no brainer.

We Should Reward Nice Customers

We should reward customers for being nice. The prime example is at an airline. There is nothing more frustrating than not getting on a flight. If a customer takes it in stride and tries to make the best of it. That customer should be rewarded. Maybe an upgrade, free drinks or something. Its important to know that when complaining. The nicer you are to a person behind a desk the more willing they will be to help you or bend the rules.

Look at the customers background. If they come in and express an issue and their background is uneventful. We should take their word over a customer that constantly complains. Back to my example of the bill pay. If the Credit Union had said “We can’t give you all the money but here is something back.” It would have gone along way. I would not have left the institution.

Customer service is changing. Is the “customer always right?” That is for you and your business to decide. I however, don’t think this is the case in the 21st Century.

Tim is the founder of Element33. A social media agency specializing in education, management and strategy for small businesses. He comes from a traditional marketing agency but has embraced all things digital. He considers himself a marketing nerd and believes that all marketing is tied together. This means no matter what silo you are in, social, email, seach, etc, changes in one will affect the other!

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