The Customer Is Always Right, Right?

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Customer is king when it comes to business. But do they also always need to be right? Here are some helpful tips on how to interact with your clients.

I have always been fascinated with astronomy and astrology, so I thought some study into the subject of stars would help. In 2004 I subscribed to Susan Miller, famed astrologer, and I even met her then in person at a book signing at Barnes and Noble. Now, I’m not a firm believer in everyday planet predictions, but it’s actually fun to read a monthly what-if scenario and see if it happens! She is always so positive that for the least, her information is a cheery pick-me-up. Leos love cheery picks-me-ups!

Fast forward to 2014. It was turning out to be a year akin to the Harry Potter series for me, so I didn’t really make time to follow up on Susan Miller’s monthly reports. This was until my sister let me know that the woman was fighting for her life with major gastric issues. Ironically, I myself was suffering from a minor version of the same, so I paid more attention to her situation in general. It was July, and Susan was at her worst point in the hospital. Due to this, her free report and other paid subscriptions were posted one week late, July 7th. Colleagues, I have never seen such spewing of venom from many of her customers in the discussion section of her website. Paid customers threatened to unsubscribe and sue her for being a week late. Even the free service followers threatened to unfollow. Honestly, within the 10 years of following Susan Miller I hardly ever saw her late with a reading, and without giving an acceptable update as to why. This is an individual whose generosity in giving of her time and expertise to those who want it is, in my humble opinion, commendable.

That scenario made me understand ‘bratittude’.

“The customer is always right.” This catchphrase had been developed in the early 1900s mainly by three top businessmen, Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field. Actually, Marshall Field coined the phrase “Give the lady what she wants.”

Interesting; that is another topic for another time. Our entire business precept since then has been built on having superb customer service, and rightly so. Without the customer, we have no business, no employment, no product improvement, and our market economies would by and large tank. The consumer wields the power. Yet, should we not have a two way street of understanding when it comes to buyer and seller?

I thoroughly enjoyed Huffington Post contributor Alexander Kjerulf’s thought leadership on the posed question of customer relations. In his article titled The Top Five Reasons Why ‘The Customer Is Always Right’ Is Wrong Kjerulf gives very apt examples of CEOs having to deal with irate customers and choosing to finally let the customer go for the sake of employee morale, and sanity. The five reasons he gives are as follows:

It Makes Employees Unhappy

Customer vs. employee. Many businesses see the relationship as revenue vs. cost. However, there is a law of diminishing returns, and revenue from hellish customers may soon not cover the cost of employee turnover.

It Gives Abrasive Customers an Unfair Advantage

The whiny child may command all the attention for the short term, but the class valedictorian brings much more repute in the long term. Proactive client relations is a much better plan than reactive customer service. This is not to say that ongoing complaints that are warranted should not be addressed; however, if there is one particular client that complains about even the color of the lobby and the receptionist’s hairstyle, it may be time to nip the bud.

Some Customers Are Bad for Business

Here we are dealing with business models. Maybe ongoing complaints are indicative of going after the wrong target market for a. the chosen product b. the overall company’s strategic objective and reach. This point of course is structural, and would take further focus group attention.

It Results in Worse Customer Service

As Kjerulf directly points out:

“Employees who are happy at work give better customer service because:

  • They care more about other people, including customers;
  • They have more energy;
  • They are happy, meaning they are more fun to talk to and interact with;
  • They are more motivated.”

Some Customers Are Just Plain Wrong

I once witnessed an elderly ‘gentleman’ attempt to hit a busboy with his cane because in his opinion his coffee was not hot enough. The man further pointed out that he could get away with it because the customer comes first and can file lawsuit for age discrimination.

That man is a customer. He isn’t right. He’s a bully. Customers and employees alike need to be treated with respect and dignity.

Genuine, helpful, lasting customer service is a wonderful find, and really becomes the face of any company or brand. Horrid customer service can fast turn a loyal customer into the competitor’s fan. Yet, we need to consider business from an employee engagement perspective as well. It takes two to tango.

For customers and followers it is important to remember that leading brands and leaders in any field of expertise have a human element. Leaders may disappoint followers: it may be health failings, it may be misinformation, or it may be conscious deceitfulness. Companies may produce a stellar line of one product and a horrendous one simultaneously (think New Coke). It is really necessary to examine the motives behind circumstances and make very logical decisions based on all factors instead of being fully swayed by the pendulum of emotion.



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