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Is the Customer Always Right? A Pragmatic Approach to Customer Relations

Endri Hasanaj | Oct 18, 2016 107 views 1 Comment

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The old adage ‘the customer is always right’ harks back to earlier days of retail, but still holds a lot of weight for many businesses today, even exclusively online ones. However, just how true is it – is the customer always right? Well, yes and no. While satisfying your customers is highly important as a retailer or service provider, there are certain mitigating factors which prevent the old saying from being strictly correct. Here are some considerations and suggestions for how to approach customer service and relations in a more balanced and pragmatic fashion.

Cost/Benefit Ratios

In dutifully following the doctrine that the customer is always right, some companies may find themselves bending over backward to appease tricky customers. The trouble comes when, to stay with the same analogy, firms bend so far backward that they damage the backbone of their business. In other words, it’s important to recognize that it’s not always worth giving the customer exactly what they want when they are clearly being unreasonable.

The key here is that word, unreasonable. Of course, there are ways to effectively deal with tricky customers, but the fact is that there is a minority that will simply never be satisfied. Perhaps you have tried your best to accommodate them within your customer service framework and company philosophy, but they still demand more than is fair. When this is the case, you may be better off simply dropping the complaint and moving on, even if you lose their business. The key question here is “Are the resources I’m putting into this customer proportional to the benefit it brings me?”

Image by Pexels

Image by Pexels

Respect your Employees

The thing about placing overly exclusive emphasis on customers is that it often comes at the cost of your staff. For instance, when a member of staff refuses an unreasonable request (“I want a free meal because I made the wrong order!”), conventional wisdom may say to override your employee to keep the customer happy. The problem is, in doing so you’re in danger of actively undermining the judgment of your staff, even if you agree with their reasoning. Moments like this can leave employees feeling undervalued and dissatisfied, which is nothing short of a recipe for bad customer service.

Respecting and putting your employees first is a long-term solution to improving your customer service than pandering too much to customers or clients. Your workforce is the everyday staple of your business; they’re the ones who represent your brand, and the happier they are the better they’ll fulfill this role. If you support them, the quality of customer service will rise along with their satisfaction. In turn, this ought to result in fewer disgruntled customers in the first place.

Image by Pexels

Image by Pexels

The Power of Social Media

Social media is a highly efficient opportunity for a variety of customer-related purposes. For example, it’s very effective to use social media monitoring tools to identify target groups and engage with your audience. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have also evolved the nature of customer relations management, allowing customers to instantly air their grievances publicly.

This development does of course have its benefits for both parties when managed well, but can also underscore the issue of dealing with overly demanding customers. Negative feedback on your Facebook page can be embarrassing and harmful to your reputation, not to mention impossible to censor, so it’s natural to want to do whatever it takes to make it stop. However, this can actually be counter-productive in some cases, especially when it involves offering perks to your rudest, most unreasonable customers than you do to your most loyal ones. The flip-side to receiving publicly negative feedback is it gives you the opportunity to display that you deal with complaints compassionately and with fairness to all your customers by giving your version of events.


Engage with customers in real-time across every channel, no matter the medium. Use visitor tracking and email analytics to know what your customers are seeing.

To reiterate, the purpose of these points is not to negate the value of treating your customers well and ensuring their satisfaction. The idea is to avoid doing so to the point where it harms your long-term business objectives, staff, or other aspects of your operation, disproportionately. It pays to think, ‘Is this really worth it for my business?’ when dealing with customers, and to take ‘the customer is always right’ with a pinch of salt.

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One Response to Is the Customer Always Right? A Pragmatic Approach to Customer Relations

  1. Michael Lowenstein October 19, 2016 at 6:25 am (1198 comments) #

    Your second point, particularly, rings true for me. When an organization commits to delivering consistently superior and differentiated customer value, the focus needs to be on stakeholder-centricity – optimizing the experience for employees, customers, and vendors as well. If stakeholder-centricity is baked into the enterprise DNA, then the customer, right or wrong, will be well-served.

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