Does it matter if the customer is always right?

Nov 7, 2012   //   by Joel   //   Blog Posts, Leadership  //  View Comments

I have dealt with a lot of business leaders who have varying opinions of customers. Diversity is the spice of life, and opinions are inevitably going to be all over the spectrum. However, the statement that “The customer is always right” comes from the mentality that the customer has value, and the customer matters. It does not mean that the customer is in fact, always right. In reality the truth of it is the customer isn’t always right, but they do hold value to your organization. So it is up to us as business leaders to make them feel validated and valued, regardless if they get the outcome that they’re seeking.

Let’s face it, most companies in business today rely on customers simply to exist. If your customer doesn’t matter, or doesn’t hold value, then why do they need to do business with you? Surely there is someone else out there that offers the same products or services that you’re offering.

Recently a company that I worked with, the business leader had a very hostile attitude towards customers. Their business was 100% driven by word of mouth as they did no advertising or marketing, yet they still took a stance on customers that it was “Their privilege to do business with us”, and “The most important thing was that we get what we’re entitled to”. All of their policies were shaped around this core value, that customers owed them something. The first time that a customer asked for a refund on their services (Services not yet rendered), the result was a 4 page scathing email from the business leader that was probably the most visceral and offensive thing I have ever had the displeasure of reading. It turned my stomach to think that someone could be so aggressive towards a customer, the very life blood of their organization as to attack them in such a manner. Thankfully there was opportunity to defuse the situation and avoid having the email sent, however the very fact that it had been written showed me that the business leader was very much in a place that many business leaders are today. Can you imagine the impact on their business if this email had gone viral? With their business being fueled 100% by word of mouth growth?

Policies (Especially customer service policies), procedures, pricing, your company’s value proposition and company attitudes need to be aligned in order to make the customer feel like you appreciate them, to make them feel like them spending their hard earned money with your company is the right choice. Unless your company is uniquely positioned to offer something that nobody else (yet) offers, people have choices in where to buy.

If you’re able to make your customers feel valued, you will build loyalty. You’ll make them more likely to buy from you again when opportunity arises. You’ll make them more likely to share with a friend that they had a good experience with you and that they should check you out. We live in a connected World today, it used to be that someone who had a bad experience might tell 8 people, now they’re more likely to tell 800. So many examples of poor service going viral and literally turning a company’s future around in the blink of an eye have been seen, and yet we still have people providing service that not only does not make the customer feel valued, it insults and attacks customers.

In this video from Dominos Pizza a Domino’s employee prepares sandwiches for delivery while putting cheese up his nose, mucus on the food, and violating other health-code standards as a fellow employee looks on and provides a play-by-play description.

“We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea,” a Domino’s spokesman told the New York Times. “Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

Fair or not, they represent the company and the company is responsible, it’s going to hurt the company.

Another fine example is from American Online (AOL) back in 2006. Vincent Ferrari experienced some very painful customer service in attempting to cancel his AOL account. The video shows a little of how painful the AOL representative made it for Ferrari to cancel his account. Ferrari recorded his attempt to cancel after hearing many horror stories about similar experiences by other people. AOL’s response was:

“We have zero tolerance for customer-care incidents like this — which is deeply regrettable and also absolutely inexcusable,” an AOL spokesman said at the time, adding the customer service representative was fired for his actions.


While I have not experienced this sort of thing from AOL personally, I can imagine how helpless one would feel against a monster corporation who refuses to comply with letting go of you. It’s unfortunate that companies still use tactics like these.

In December 2011, Ocean Marketing, a marketing firm representing the manufacturer N-Control which makes devices for the Playstation 3 game console, was contacted by a customer regarding the delay of a pre-ordered device. The email exchange has been included in its entirety here. The fallout from this exchange was one of the worst I have ever witnessed, a follow up article outlines the destructive capabilities of poor customer service in today’s connected World.

In closing, while the customer may not always be right, they must always feel valued. They must feel like they mean something to you, even if you aren’t giving them what they want.

Here are some tips for making a customer feel valued and respected:

  • Make it easy to do business with you. For instance, have a live person answering all of your calls, do not have a frustrating automated system doing the work for you. A personal touch goes a long way, even if it is more expensive.
  • Make sure you clearly understand your customer’s needs and priorities so that you can customize the service they receive accordingly.
  • If there is a problem, acknowledge it quickly, apologize (Even if you’ve done nothing wrong in your eyes) and do your best to fix the problem to the customer’s satisfaction. If you cannot fix the problem, see if there is anything else within your power to make them happy. A little goes a long way in making them feel valued and respected.
  • Always keep the promises you make to your customers. Your word is your bond. If you’ve told a customer you will do something, be sure to do it. If there’s any reason for delay, make sure your customer knows about it and that you’re still planning to make good.
  • Never expect the customer to understand your staffing challenges. If you’re experiencing a busy period, or are short staffed, it really isn’t your customers problem to care. They expect the same level of service any day of the week, as they should. Be prepared to step up if you’re in a challenging staffing position.
  • Service with a smile. Even if they can’t see you, a smile affects your tone, and everyone appreciates happy service.

Remember, that every time a customer approaches you with a problem, this is your chance to really shine. If you take charge of the situation and do everything to make them happy (Not necessarily fixing the problem), they’re far more likely to share how you went above and beyond to make things right for them, as well as more likely to come back for repeat business. Being humble adds to your bottom line in business.

About Joel:
Joel brings a seasoned perspective to his work, highly focused on tailored and sustainable solutions for his clients. With nearly 20 years of professional experience specializing in SMB (Small and Medium Business), Joel has an innate ability to see through a business' problems and find customized solutions that work for them.
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