Is the Customer Always Right?

If you’ve been in business for any time at all, you’re more than familiar with the old adage that the customer is always right. It’s a reflection of a philosophy that your customer is to be respected and valued, and to prioritize making them happy and feel valued.

Well, that is a good set of priorities, but is it true that the customer is always right? Well, in all honesty, that’s not the case. If you follow that philosophy unconditionally and literally, then you’re asking to be extorted and taken advantage of. It can even go as far as to ruin your company, or get you in trouble, can’t it?

Well, let’s look at some situations where that can happen. In customer service, customers will call you with problems. Sometimes it’s dissatisfaction, sometimes it’s a defect or technical problem … something negative and disruptive. This will put them in a bad way, and it will require them to navigate the abyss of support. Chances are, even if you’re using multiple channels for support contact, they’ll default to the call center. This will sour their mood further.

Now, most customers are reasonable, and it’ll just have been a minor inconvenience all in all. But, not everyone is reasonable, and so some customers will make unreasonable demands out of anger and belligerence.

If you’re complicit with these demands, you can be defrauded, abused and even forced to break business ethics. So, there does come a point when you do have to say no, and admit the customer may not be right.

If you do not set limits like this, it may not immediately spring into madness. But, if you’re completely giving, the freeloaders and extorters will gather and will cause you utter ruination.

It’s not a question of whether or not you will eventually have to say no. It’s a matter of how you handle it when it comes down to it. Compensating a customer in some non-complicit default resolution way is a good way to handle it. It’s best to be congenial and apologetic when offering these default resolutions. But, when customers feel they’ve gained ground and try to keep pressing, you’ll need to know when to take a firmer stance and not be so deferent to them.

You’re used to standing for what your company represents, and with your philosophy and mission as a corporate entity. That same stern, self-confidence is necessary in the case of hostile and abusive customers. You have to stand your ground about expenses for quality, and permissible reparations for dissatisfaction. They need to be defined, and published where a user can theoretically read them. And, you need to stick with these standards you set waveringly. There are no exceptions for new, or loyal regular customers when it comes to this.

Like death and taxes, this is something that nobody is exempt from when it all boils down.

So, the age old claim that the customer is always right is a foolish thing to take too seriously. Standing your ground is something you must inevitably do, because unfortunately, humans aren’t all reasonable, rational people. You must account for this inevitable irrationality, and be prepared to not yield to it.


is Specialist in Customer Success and chief writer and editor of I Want It Now, a blog for Customer Service Experts. Follow her @StefWalkMe