Why you shouldn’t believe that Customer is always right

4 min read

Enforcing ” the customer is always right ” on your frontline teams immediately puts them against the customer.

No matter how long you’ve been running a business or working in customer service, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “ The customer is always right ”. In theory, it’s well-meaning. After all, making customers happy is the goal, isn’t it?

The phrase comes from an era when business relationships were mostly transactional. It put the focus on the customer during a time when misrepresentation was common and the seller had the majority of the power. Fast forward to today, and things have (thankfully) shifted for the better. Yet, still, this phrase “ The customer is always right ” lives on.

At what point does treating your customers as if they’re always right, hurt you? In every other area of life, we don’t give people that much leeway. In fact, we know to expect the people around us to be wrong occasionally. We’re all human, it’s bound to happen.

Of course, treating customers with respect and showing them they’re valued are non-negotiables. But let’s face it, there are bad customers out there. Ones that can hurt your business far more than losing their business will hurt.

Let’s dive into just how a bad customer can throw a wrench into your customer services team’s overall happiness and how you can treat them without being used as a doormat.

Save Your Best For Your Best Customers

Ok, before you protest, this doesn’t mean rolling out the red carpet for only a select few. Peter Fader said in his book Customer Centricity, “Not all customers deserve your company’s best efforts.”

We can all probably agree that no matter the product or service, a business’ purpose is to help solve a customer’s problem and keep them satisfied. Part of that means your customer service team’s actions, words, and service should demonstrate how much you value your customers. While businesses exist to serve, bending over backward for unreasonable customers uses limited time, money and energy.

It’s easy to think that more customers equal better business, but the quality of customer matters. Customers that continuously (meaning their actions aren’t due to a one-off bad day) demand outrageous or free things, throw fits and are downright rude, are disruptive to your team and business.

These types of people are toxic. It’s better to spend time nurturing relationships with new, kinder or loyal customers. Not to mention, you will most likely never satisfy them, no matter what you do for them.

Don’t be afraid to fire your worst customers

Take for instance the popular customer service nightmare story from Southwest airlines. Long story short, a frequent flier continuously complained about everything from the seating process to the airline’s food. Finally, in response to one of her many letters Southwest’s CEO, Herb Kelleher, responded to her complaints by essentially telling her, “If you hate our business so much, goodbye.” He also made a point to reach out to his employees to let them know how much he appreciated them for courteously dealing with customers like her.

In the short term, firing customers like these may cost you slightly. In the long run it’s nothing compared to the satisfaction of having customers who respect you and enjoy your business. Take away what you can from the situation and move on to greener pastures.

Put Your People First

Happy employees, equal happy customers. According to the 2016 Employee Engagement Benchmark Study, businesses that deliver top-notch customer experience have almost double the amount of happy, engaged employees. Coincidence? We think not.

However, enforcing ” the customer is always right ” on your frontline teams immediately puts them against the customer. Each time management makes a decision that favors a toxic customer it overrides a trusted team member’s decision making. This behavior sends a message.

Employees end up feeling undervalued, undermined, unprotected from negative customers and resentful. Especially if you have an otherwise trustworthy, dependable team.

Dealing With Toxic Customers

Irate, irrational and overall unhappy customers, aren’t frequent occurrences (and if they are then there are bigger issues at hand). Nonetheless, it’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve to deal when them when they come up.

There’s a difference between listening to customer feedback and trying to be everything to everyone. Aside from remaining positive and refraining from insults, it’s important to remind your customer that your team are the experts. For example, a customer’s unhappiness could be stemming from the fact that they really are just confused. In which case, an act as simple as helping your frustrated customer understands how to best utilize your company’s product or service could turn the situation around. Again, customers just want to be appreciated.

Of course, sometimes it’s not that simple. While there is no one way to handle upset customers, having an understanding and sympathetic team is a great first step. Other things like a clear customer service policy dictating when it’s appropriate to offer discounts and when it’s ok to bend the rules a little is also helpful.

If your team can’t make these decisions, dedicating someone from the management to handle these escalated situation is also beneficial.

Remember What’s Important

Again, we’d never encourage giving up on trying your best to keep customers happy. People have bad days, people get confused and some people are just negative Nancy’s. That doesn’t make them horrible people. You should always attempt to resolve the conflict first. Your customer service team should know that remaining as respectful and helpful as possible is a must.

But for those unreasonable, repeat offenders that assume they are entitled to anything they wish no matter how impossible, remember what’s important to you and your business. Happy employees, quality customers and running a business you can be proud of.

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