Reasons Why ‘The Customer Is Always Right’ Maxim Is Wrong For Your Business

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

The phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London, and is typically used by businesses to convince customers that they will get good service at this company and convince employees to give customers good service.

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However, the famous phase didn’t hold sway anymore and business owners and employers should abandon this phrase once and for all — ironically because it leads to worse customer service.

It is generally accepted that one of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can commit is holding the thought that “customers are always right“. The customer is sometimes wrong.

Here are the top five reasons why “The Customer Is Always Right” is wrong.

Couple with a Shopping Cart Buying Bread

It Makes Employees Unhappy

Employees shouldn’t be treated like serfs, they deserved to be valued. When they think management won’t support them when a customer is out of line, even the smallest problem can cause resentment.

Employers should trust their people over unreasonable customers. What is like about this attitude is that it balances employees and customers. The “always right” maxim squarely favors the customer which is a bad idea, because it causes resentment among employees.

When it’s a choice between supporting your employees, who work with you every day and make your product what it is, or some irate jerk who demands out of the ordinary because you offered him services or products.

Continental Airlines CEO, Gordon Bethune stands about conflicts between employees and unruly customers, He said, “When we run into customers that we can’t reel back in, our loyalty is with our employees. They have to put up with this stuff every day. Just because you buy a ticket does not give you the right to abuse our employees.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of bad employees giving lousy customer service but trying to solve this by declaring the customer “always right” is counter-productive.

It Gives Abrasive Customers an Unfair Advantage

Using the slogan “The customer is always right,” strengthens abusive customers to demand just about anything — they’re right by definition, aren’t they? This makes the employees’ jobs that much harder when trying to rein them in.

Also, it means that abusive people get better treatment and conditions than nice people. That always seemed wrong but it makes much more sense to be nice to the nice customers to keep them coming back.

Some Customers Are Bad for Business

Most businesses think that “the more customers the better”. But Ironically, some customers are quite simply bad for business.

Once an IT service provider arrived at a customer’s site for a maintenance task, and to his great shock was treated very rudely by the customer.

When he’d finished the task and returned to the office, he told management about his experience. They promptly canceled the customer’s contract.

The company fired a bad customer. Note that it was not even a matter of a financial calculation — not a question of whether either company would make or lose money on that customer in the long run. It was a simple matter of respect and dignity and of treating their employees right.

It Results in Worse Customer Service

Hal Rosenbluth argues that when you put the employees first, they put the customers first. Put employees first and they will be happy at work. Employees who are happy at work give better customer service because:

They care more about other people, including customers as a result of their happiness on the job, they have more energy and motivation.

On the other hand, when the company and management consistently side with customers instead of with employees, it sends a clear message that they are not valued, have no right to respect from customers, and also have to put up with everything from customers.

When this attitude prevails, employees stop caring about service. At that point, genuinely good service is almost impossible — the best customers can hope for is fake good service. You know the kind I mean: courteous on the surface only.

Some Customers Are Just Plain Wrong

Herb Kelleher makes it clear that his employees come first — even if it means dismissing customers.

Good looking young waiter in apron standing at modern food truck counter and looking at camera with toothy smile

But aren’t customers always right? “No, they are not,” Kelleher snaps. “And I think that’s one of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can commit. The customer is sometimes wrong. We don’t carry those sorts of customers. We write to them and say, ‘Fly somebody else. Don’t abuse our people.’”

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The fact is that some customers are just plain wrong, that businesses are better of without them, and that managers siding with unreasonable customers over employees is a very bad idea, that results in worse customer service.

Therefore, any business needs to put its people first — and watch them put the customers first.

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