The Customer is Always Right!

What is it they say – “If it wasn’t for the customers, business would be a joyous thing!” Have you ever wondered what your customers think of you and thus by extension -your brand? If you are addressing your brand strategy correctly, you are striving to build strong relationships with your customers. You are probably doing your utmost to make sure that their every touch point with your company is a good experience. Do you have processes in place that addresses any problems that may arise? You don’t want your customer to dance around voice mail hell or get the cold shoulder by service managers.

Customer service should be exactly that ‘service’…

What we all must respect is the customer’s opinion. Some times for whatever reason, the customer may have a negative opinion of your brand. The opinion may even be based on something which is simply untrue, but the bottom line is the customer is always right. Nobody says you have to do business with them again, you only have to make it right. Regardless of how you ‘truly feel’, it is always best to take the high road and get the matter behind you both and move on. The value of your brand is much more important than making a few grudge points by laying into the customer just to make sure they understand your position. Believe me, over the past 25 years I’ve wanted to tear a few heads off, but thought better of the idea to make sure that I don’t burn any bridges and that my reputation stays on a purely professional level.

What do you do to make your customer’s experience a great one? Do you give thank you gifts at Christmas? Do you track their birthdays, anniversary’s etc. and send out cards? One way I impact my customer’s experience with me is to put myself in front of them personally. Today many of us are way to eager to take the easy way out and rely solely on voice, email and texting as our main point of contact with our customers. This can result in a large branding problem based on the fact that this expedient contact eliminates any personal connection to you. Your are easy to replace, since you have no personal contact. You are much like a price-based brand connection. The next cheapest price, replaces you. I make it a point to get face to face contact as much as possible. This also gets me additional business.

So I suggest infusing some low tech contact to make your brand valuable. This personal relationship goes a long way to smoothing rough waters when situations do arise. A customer is more likely to cut you some slack if they know “You”. We also know for a fact that how we handle rough waters reflects in many ways what our brand represents. How you handle a customer’s problem, if it is done correctly and on-brand, will turn that customer into a long term advocate for you. It pays that customers are right. In the business world, a customer’s perception of your brand is as important as the reality of your brand. They must work in unison – this forms the bond of a great brand relationship.

Ed Roach

For more than 30 years, I have worked with hundreds of successful small businesses by helping them develop unique brand positioning strategies that differentiates them from their competition. I appreciate working with companies who see the value of going beyond mere slogans and have a desire to sell from compelling positions. I consult predominantly with businesses facilitating my proprietary branding process. This branding process effectively focuses a company's brand delivering a positioning strategy that can be taken to their marketplace.

I have international speaking experience and am the author of "101 Branding Tips," Practical advice for your brand that you can use today. I'm also a "expert panellist" with Bob Proctor (from The Secret)'s Matrixx Events in Toronto.

I have been interviewed in all media and I also blog extensively and uses the digital realm on the web to connect and promote my services world-wide.

I have international speaking experience including a recent event in Prague, in the Czech Republic and is the author of "101 Branding Tips," Practical advice for your brand that you can use today, the book is available on Amazon.com and the Amazon Kindle store.

My clients are from Canada, The United States, Ukraine, India, United Arab Emirates and Tanzania.

I recently facilitated a workshop in San Diego aimed at teaching Graphic Design companies how to build brands for their customers.

Comments

  1. The Customer is Always Right! – The best phrase for today business environmental and competition. If your customer is not right You will not sirvive for a long time

  2. Great article. I like the part where is talked about the way you treat a customer will be how the brand is viewed. That is so true.

  3. The Customer is Always Right! is a false statement. The customer is not always right and you do not give in if he is not.

    “The opinion may even be based on something which is simply untrue, but the bottom line is the customer is always right.”

    You do respect the customer’s opinion but that does not mean you fold like a lawn chair. The customer is not always right!

    “The value of your brand is much more important than making a few grudge points by laying into the customer just to make sure they understand your position.”

    I could not agree with the above statement more and you do try to work with the upset customer. But do not give in just to look like a nice guy. It could cost you your business.

    You can please some of the people most of the time but you can not please every customer everytime.

  4. You make a good point Brent. I wouldn’t suggest agreeing to the point of losing your buisness, as with most things in life there are no abolutes. I only suggest that it’s not worth the effort to be “right”. Settle the issue, whether in their favor or yours and leave it at that. No need to have the last word. Move on with your head held high. It compliments your personal brand.

    I’m sure you’ll agree that some characters are just a-holes. My general service etiquette is the that the customer is always right – like a golden rule. It keeps me focused on what is important.

    Thanks for challenging me.

    Ed

  5. I just posted a long post on another web site stating I believe the customer is always right, even though that can be very challenging at times, and I have lost a few customers. The challenge is in responding compassionately to the client’s underlying concerns, by simply being attuned and sensitive in the way one works with the person. (At least that was my post in a nutshell.)

    So I’m glad to see your article on the customer always being right. Thank you for affirming that, in a world of increasingly lousy customer service.

    However, I’m curious for your take on this one. I’m a broke student and a very wealthy neighbor (so she often tells me) in the apartment opposite mine asked me to water her plants while she was on vacation. I almost have my A.A. in horticulture.

    I said sure, glad to do it. No pay necessary. Then I found out it was for six weeks, and that she wanted me to fill a large watering can in my sink 27 times per DAY and bring it over to flood her plants (she didn’t know their watering requirements, and INSISTED I water that much, or not take the job.) 45 minutes per day of watering, for six weeks.

    Of course, she knocked on my door to ask all of this after 9 p.m., and stayed for an hour. The night before her trip, she left half a dozen messages on my answering machine, wondering why I was not home, even though I had not promised to be. While I listened to them, upon returning, she knocked on my door, at 10 p.m., wanting to go over everything again about the 27 cans of water.

    She had had a young married woman (supported by her husband) who did this for her, a neighbor who had moved out. The said the young woman had always refused pay, so she gave the young woman expensive gifts from Macy’s – clothes, jewelry, etc. She said she would buy me some clothes from Macy’s – surprise me – as pay. I didn’t need or want a pricey sweater, I need to be paid money and to choose my own inexpensive things. She finally agreed to pay me. After they got home, they paid me. She asked me to keep watering their plants daily, but wanted to pay me in gifts and sweaters. (She loves to shop. But so do I–for my own choice of clothes!)

    I try never to take any opportunity to earn money, and a client, for granted. But this was overwhelming. She was over all the time, taking a lot of my time, to talk about her plants, and her plants were getting diseased from overwatering, but she insisted I keep doing so. She had not paid me for the work I’d done since their trip, or even agreed on pay, though I’d asked her several times. She acted as if it was rude and unneighborly to want to be paid, and to not accept her promise to pay me in expensive gifts (that I didn’t want or need). I told her I was self-supporting.

    I think she wanted to feel like I was her friend, and to give me gifts, rather than just being her employee. Every time I opened my curtains, she’d see and come over, ringing and ringing my doorbell before I could even zip to the front door. Finally, when I started watering just every other day, she came over one day when I heard her outside on her patio, and hurried to shut my drapes. She came over and rang and rang, saying she’d seen my drapes move. I was furious and it showed. I told her yes, they’d moved because I was closing them to give her the hint I didn’t want her coming over constantly, that I had no privacy and felt like a prisoner in my apartment with drapes shut all day, and to please no longer ring more than once. She had come over to ask for her watering can back, because her husband was upset I wasn’t watering daily. Even though they hadn’t made an agreement with me on payment, let alone paying. I was watering in the meantime, until we had an agreement, because they are seniors with significant physical limitations, and she had had to go into the hospital on her trip, and was still recovering.

    So obviously this was the client from you-know-where, but a part of me still thinks, how could I have worked it out with her, if I really believe that the customer is always right? Could I have spoken more to her wanting to be friends, but still negotiated being paid money, not in sweaters? She has been angry me ever since, and of course, has never knocked on my door again.

    I say hello, and she has said hello back, cooly. But her husband, who has never responded whenever I’ve said hello to him, just scowls (since before I began working for them), I have stopped saying hello to, because I’m tired of his scowling in reply. Since then, the wife, Diane, stopped saying hello.

    grr. With neighbors like this…. Is there anything I could have done better here, please? I’d appreciate your perspective.

    I imagine you’d say they just weren’t worth it.

    Thank you.

  6. Wow – what a story. I think that you handled everything correctly except for the money end. If they don’t pay – they’re not a customer. Watering plants while they are away is a favor and neighborly, but ongoing is a job. If you pay your own water bills then expecting the 27 cans of water from your tap is unreasonable especially if no money exchanged hands. A flag went up when I read that comment – why from your sink NOT theirs?

    I think (and I am no pshycologist) that the real stroy here is not the plants but they were looking to control your friendship through the watering “favor” and that they could adopt you and repay their kindness with gifts. So they are not really paying you. God knows what else they would have gotten you to do for them if they had gotten to play their game.

    So the bottom line in my mind here is that since no money was involved, and “their” barter idea was soely on their end with no agreement from you so they are not technically “customers”. All the same you confronted them and the situation directly and handled it nicely. You were prepared to help them out professionally, but they wanted it on more personal terms and that was never the agreement as you understood it.

    Pat yourself on the back and be thankful that monkey’s off your back. They could never accuse you of being unreasonable since all you requested was money for services rendered. Sometimes it doesn’t apy to answer your door, eh?

  7. Let’s see if the customer is right in this following true life conversation at a sandwich shop.

    Customer: “I’d like pineapple on my sub.”

    Me: “I’m sorry, we don’t have pineapple. Only Mr. Sub has pineapple.”

    Customer: “Yes you do! I always get pineapple here!”

    Me: “I’ve worked here for quite a while, and we’ve never had it. Sorry!”

    Customer: “Excuse me, the customer is always right! You can’t argue with me!”

    Me: “Um…”

    Customer speaks to my manager: “Excuse me, your employee is arguing with me! What are you going to do about it?”

    Who do you think the manager sided with?

    Manager: “Don’t be so stupid! Get out of my store!”

    Hooray for one boss who understands that the customer is not always right!

    How about a story from Southwest Airlines:

    One woman who frequently flew on Southwest, was constantly disappointed with every aspect of the company’s operation. In fact, she became known as the “Pen Pal” because after every flight she wrote in with a complaint.

    She didn’t like the fact that the company didn’t assign seats; she didn’t like the absence of a first-class section; she didn’t like not having a meal in flight; she didn’t like Southwest’s boarding procedure; she didn’t like the flight attendants’ sporty uniforms and the casual atmosphere.

    Her last letter, reciting a litany of complaints, momentarily stumped Southwest’s customer relations people. They bumped it up to Herb’s [Kelleher, CEO of Southwest] desk, with a note: ‘This one’s yours.’

    In sixty seconds, Kelleher wrote back and said, ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.’”

    Hooray for one CEO who knows that the customer is not always right!

    I suggest everyone who believes in the adages “The customer is always right” reads this website and see if you want to change your mind.

  8. Joe,

    What do you think happens next when the sub shop manager called the person stupid and ordered them from their store? Does viral advertising sound familiar? If there were other customers in the store at the time, what are they thinking? Sounds alot like Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. As I said in my post it is how you handle it. That sub shop took the short cut and took the rude solution. They could have said that if the customer wishes this condiment they would stock it in the future when they returned. Then to “make it right” offer them a coupon for something to compensate for the inconvenience of not having pineapple.

    A great example of this exact situation happened at my local Home Depot. An ederly customer came in with a tire they insisted that they purchased there – wanting a refund. He was told repeatedly that Home Depot didn’t sell tires. After recognizing after several minutes that the customer was a little confused, they simply accepted the tire and generously refunded him the money. It doesn’t hurt to “make it right”.

    I’d say the Southwest CEO handled the situation very nicely without insulting the intellegence of the customer. There is more to the statement than the literal definition of “being right”. If you notice the CEO DIDN”T say the customer was wrong, just that maybe they (Southwest) weren’t right for them.

    Beautiful.

  9. I used to work at a furniture manufacturer, where we mass produced aluminium furniture for a couple of supermarket chains.

    We had two main suppliers, the first one was always on time with delivery and never had a quality problem.

    The second supplier had the occasional quality problem, but when the problems arose they pulled out all the stops and got the problems resolved fairly quickly. Nevertheless, they cost us some money during the process.

    Senior management at my company always prefered the supplier that had the problems – they couldn’t see the real bottom line figure, just impressed by the ‘quality’ of their service.

  10. Interesting situation Wicker. It boils down to a simple reality in life or business. When you do your cjob right, all is going smoothly you tend to take that situation for granted. It becomes an expectation. NOw let’s say something goes awry, with a the performance of one of the players. HOW they deal with that problewm will make a HUGE imp[act on the customers or family member. This is where heir chance to really shine comes out. It may not be fair to the people who are doing their job right consistently, but imagine the opportunity of the other party to not only be on the radar but to really shine if they handle the problem fantastically. They take on a hero aura. At times not fair, but definitely human nature.

  11. Hello,
    I am a business owner monday through friday 8 hours a day. Every other time of the week I am a customer. I think the problem with the “customer is always right” statement is that not only is it taken too literally by both sides but people try to apply it to every situation regardless of the circumstances. Recently I had a customer that was unhappy with my product. Not only did I apologize for his situation and refund his money in full the very same day, I offered him a better product for free, and asked if there was anything else I could do to solve the problem. There was. I could pay him a LARGE amount of money or he would report me to the Better Business Bureau as well as the local news agencies. Is he right in this situation?

    I don’t disagree that the customer is always right philosphy helps stress the importance of customer service in a competitive business environment however, one size does not fit all. While my example above might have been a bit more on the extreme side, I’ve seen people take this customer is always right mentality to the extreme pretty much every day. Its a shame that such a great philosophy that tries to protect the customer and enhance customer to business relations has been abused so much that it leaves a bitter taste with many business owners and employees.

    Thanks Ed for the great discussion. I enjoyed it so much this is my first time ever posting my own two cents!

  12. Right is one thing, Saki, but that’s extortion – I’d report him to the authorities. I would say right – within the law. I suppose you could say right within common sense. Nothing can be black and white.