Is the Customer really always right?


When I started working in retail back in the 80’s, one of the very first things I was taught is that the customer is always right. As important as my customers have always been to me, I have questioned this adage many a time over the years.




One of the aspects I enjoyed THE MOST about being in retail was my customers, and I was (and still am) absolutely PASSIONATE about exceeding customer expectations. Yes, I know they, not my boss, paid my salary, but it went way beyond that. It was more than “just my job”. I honestly enjoyed interacting with them, building relationships with them, seeing them walk out my store happy.


But not all of them … some customers you were glad to see the back of.


I’m not talking about the customer with a genuine complaint here. Those customers you value, because they care enough to complain, and you can invariably fix the situation and end up with a very loyal customer. Genuine complaints point out areas that are lacking; be it processes, services or any other area of your business that needs fixing or tweaking. Genuine complaints help your business, and ultimately your bottom line, improve.




Some customers will never be satisfied. No matter how far you bend over backwards or how much time and energy you dedicate to these customers, they will just never be happy. And when it comes to deciding between wasting energy and resources on one toxic, unreasonable customer or meeting the needs of all your other customers, I really think there’s no contest. It’s far better to let Grumpy go. It might cost you short-term revenue, but it’s better for your business in the long run. And besides, don’t you think your nice customers and your loyal customers deserve the biggest chunk of your resources and your attention? I certainly think so!


Customers also need to know, yes, you value them, but you won’t let them abuse your staff or make it unpleasant for your other customers.


We’ve all been in a store where someone has completely flown off the handle or starts shouting profanities at the store staff. It makes almost everyone (staff and customers alike) feel uncomfortable and you just want to get out of there. By entertaining rude, obnoxious customers, you’re creating bad experiences for your loyal customers.




As a rule, unhappy employees provide poor customer service and happy employees treat your customers better and are more willing to go the extra mile.


When you consistently side with unreasonable customers because “the customer is always right”, you’re sending the message to your staff that they must put up with customer abuse, they are not valued, and they cannot expect to be treated with respect. This is very bad for staff morale. That is when your staff stop caring, and when your staff don’t care, your business suffers … greatly!


This does not mean that you or your staff can just treat customers any way they want to and it certainly doesn’t mean that your staff will not sometimes be in the wrong, but your support for your staff starts by giving them proper training and allowing them to develop the skills to deal effectively with unreasonable, constantly complaining customers.




Having said all that, I’m not saying you must simply give up on resolving conflict with your customers either. It goes without saying that both you and your employees must continuously strive to exceed your customers’ expectations and to provide excellent customer service. What I am saying is,  you need to assess each situation individually,  try by all means to resolve the issue in a professional manner first, but if all else fails, extract the important bits, look at the bigger picture and then make the best decision for your business.