The business world had first heard the maxim, “The customer is always right,” when Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of the Selfridge department store in London, used it to reassure customers that they can always expect good service from his company. More than a century later, it’s still being applied by many business giants, often to the exasperation of employees.
Decade after decade, this mentality has been drilled into the heads of entrepreneurs. Workers are told to look beyond the need to do what is just. They’re expected to turn the other cheek and smile when an irate customer is calling them down. Well, here’s a secret for you that everyone knows but nobody wants to spill out: The customer isn’t always right. You know it, and business owners know it, too.
Why This Mentality Should Be Ditched
Businessmen have long touted the customer-is-always-right mentality. However, it’s time to let it go and accept that it could destroy employees’ morale, mess up the business process, and harm customer service in general. Customers are not always right—they just think they are. However, that doesn’t mean you should continue to apply this principle mindlessly in your business. Here are six reasons why this mentality should’ve been flushed down the drain a long, long time ago.
1. Customers don’t always know what they’re doing
Customers are not experts. They may be aggressive in asserting their opinions, but most of the time, they don’t really know how their words and actions affect the bigger picture. To contend the absolute power of customers, regardless of their individual attitudes and unique situations, is one way to send good business flying out the door.
If you know that the client is wrong and your employee is right, don’t suck up to the former and disown the latter. Instead, be just and reasonable. Remember that part of your job is to help both customers and employees. Telling customers they’re right when they’re not doesn’t do them—or you—any favor. Don’t bend over backwards every time a client complains. Remember, you’re the expert, not them.
2. Most customers are resistant to change
The case is simple—there are many consumers out there who are simply not progressive thinkers. They care more about keeping the status quo as it is than exploring possibilities for improvement. They don’t care if you’re trying to create something new; they’re not going to adopt it until the rest of the world is onboard and they’re the only ones left in oblivion. The fact that there are still many retrogressive people in the world can put you in a vulnerable spot, especially if your business is geared towards innovation. As you know, the enemy of business success is stagnation, so it will harm you to stay on one spot for the longest time just to please regressive customers.
3. Unreasonable customers are bad for business
Most entrepreneurs are possessed by the illusion that the more clients a business has, the better off it will be. While this may be justified to some extent, it’s not an absolute truth that every businessperson should uphold. There are things more important than garnering a massive consumer base and earning money—and yes, we’re talking about dignity and respect. That said, it’s only appropriate to fire a bad customer who is on the verge of burning all of your resources and energy. Remember, you can only expend so much, so don’t use up all your resources on clients who deserve them the least. Dedicate them instead on reasonable clients who are willing to work things out. Do your part, and if that doesn’t lead you anywhere, move on. After all, no reward can make keeping a difficult customer relationship worthwhile.
To use author Peter Fader’s words, “Not all customers deserve your company’s best efforts. And despite what the old adage says, the customer is most definitely not always right. Because in the world of customer centricity, there are good customers…and then there is everybody else.”
4. It gives bad customers an unfair advantage
Since when does being rude gets rewarded? Abusive customers need to know that they can’t always get what they want. Sometimes, they need to adjust their mindset. What makes more sense is for nice people to be treated with care and respect. Businesses should run the extra mile for those who leave a long-lasting positive impact, not for those who only bring problems.
5. It makes employees unhappy and resentful
The customer-is-always-right principle is a double-edged sword. Not only does it encourage rudeness; it also dampens employee morale. By choosing a hard-to-please client (who is halfway through the door anyway) over a valuable employee who’s been with you through tough times, you’re only reinforcing the prejudice regarding employers not having the employees’ back—and this will upset your employees. To quote Bret Larsen, CEO of eVisit, “Chances are, you assembled your team based on their values and abilities. Put faith in that. Support them however you can.”
6. It results into worse customer service overall
If your argument for insisting that the customer is always right is that it’s a good customer service principle, then you need to reevaluate your business assumptions. To borrow words from author Alexander Kjerulf, “Believing the customer is always right is a subconscious way of favoring the customer over the employee, which can lead to resentment among employees. When managers put the employees first, the employees will then put the customers first. Put employees first and they will be happy at work.” When employees are happy, they feel more motivated. This ultimately leads to a more positive environment where customer service can thrive best.
The gist is simple—customers are not always right. However, that doesn’t mean they’re always wrong either. You have to weigh in the facts and use your judgment fairly. That’s what being a good entrepreneur and employer is about, anyway.
Beal, Andy. “Why the Customer Is Not Always Right and Why It Doesn’t Matter.” American Express. July 25, 2011. www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/why-the-customer-is-not-always-right-and-why-it-doesnt-matter
DeMers, Jayson. “No, The Customer Is Not Always Right.” Forbes. September 2, 2014. www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2014/09/02/no-the-customer-is-not-always-right/#74b964ad4412
Kjerulf, Alexander. “Top 5 Reasons Why ‘The Customer Is Always Right’ Is Wrong.” Huffington Post. April 15, 2014. www.huffingtonpost.com/alexander-kjerulf/top-5-reasons-customer-service_b_5145636.html
Page, Bubba. “3 Reasons Why the Customer Is Always Right…Is Wrong.” Inc. October 15, 2015. www.inc.com/bubba-page/3-reasons-why-the-customer-is-always-right-is-wrong.html
“The Customer Is Always Right.” Phrases. n.d. www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/106700.html