Why the Customer is Always Right is BS

Can we finally dispense with the myth that the customer is always right?

Do you remember the first time a supervisor told you that “the customer is always right”? I do. I was 16 years old when I left my job at Santa Rosa Golf Course to work at Winn Dixie, a grocery store in Bradenton, Florida. I even remember the store number: Store #610, which, until being replaced by a healthcare organization a few decades ago, proudly occupied the southwest intersection of 34th Street and Cortez Road.

The afternoon I was hired by the grocery store, one of the assistant managers, Bruce Noll, told me: “Don’t forget: the customer is always right!” Although it was the first time I distinctly remember a supervisor articulating that particular edict, it certainly wasn’t the last, as I heard it several times since: “The customer is always right, the customer is always right, the customer is always right.”

And it’s such B.S. because it isn’t true.

Instead, “the customer is always right” is an antiquated cliché that belongs in a landfill with other non-recyclable garbage.

Want proof? Let’s use Nordstrom, a conspicuous leader in customer service, as an example. Realistically speaking, what would happen if a customer, merely professing that “the customer is always right,” demanded Nordstrom to sell a higher priced item at 50% off? Would Nordstrom agree? Doubtful. Instead, Nordstrom would explain to the customer why the higher price was justified.

Want another example? Consider Disney, an undeniable leader in customer service. What would happen if a guest, again relying merely on “the customer is always right” mantra, demanded to be placed at the front of the line on a popular attraction? Would Disney agree? Probably not. Rather, Disney would offer other alternatives to its guest, such as the “Fast Pass” option.

So, can we finally dispense with “the customer is always right” fiction?

Now, having said that, it’s also important to emphasize that merely because we refuse to subscribe to “the customer is always right” mentality, doesn’t make us anti-customer. To the contrary, we relentlessly advocate customer-centric practices. So, instead of generically proclaiming that “the customer is always right,” let’s replace that barren buzz phrase with three non-negotiable and substantive customer service principles that will better serve your business or organization.

  • First, we will always listen to the customer. Even if we disagree with the customer, and even though we might not be able to grant a customer’s particular request, we will always listen to the customer, patiently and without interrupting.
  • Second, we will always treat the customer with respect, even if the customer does not reciprocate respect. We understand that factors beyond our organization’s control often contribute to a customer’s anger, so we will always grant the customer freedom to vent.
  • Third, we will always follow through with a customer’s request, even if it involves communicating “bad news.” This means that we will always, without exception, return telephone calls, emails, and social media questions and comments on a timely basis.

We’re confident that the foregoing customer service principles offer substantive alternatives that, in the long-term, will produce better results for your business or organization than merely professing that “the customer is always right.”


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