Customers are always right, is a myth. Showing them their right is the meat of CX.


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A very common phrase that is always used within the business scene is: ‘customer is always right.’ Now, one could argue that it is mostly used by customers- for their own advantage. Well we could leave the argument- for or against, on the shelves for now.

I would share a personal experience I had in a store a couple of weeks ago. A customer bought an Iphone 5s 16GB, the previous day, had a change of mind and came in to exchange the device. The main challenge she had with the sales associate, was that she had none of the initial packaging, accessories and receipt she was given. I was in a different section of the store making my own purchase, but overheard her, screaming “I want to speak to your manager and I know my rights as a customer.” She kept yelling and the manager had to intervene. His approach was outstanding.

It inspired the maxim, ‘Customers are always right is a myth but showing them their right is the meat of customer experience.’ Now back to the story! She went on about her rights as the customer and that she would get her lawyers involved if he does not change the device to the Iphone 5s 64GB. He took a deep breath and cited the exact section of a consumer’s right, regarding exchange and return of goods- as stipulated by the trading standards. He made her understand for a purchased good to be accepted- for a return or exchange; it needs to be returned with the original packaging and receipt. This reality made her calm down a bit, realizing she was on the wrong but adamant ‘customers are always right.’ After the manager showed the customer her right and refuting ‘the customer is always right’ viewpoint, he went ahead to complete the exchange of device and the lady left very happy.

Historically, the maxim ‘The customer is always right’ was coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon
Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London, and is typically used by businesses to convince customers that they are priority at the expense of everything. It is normally argued that customers are the employers of a company- as they pay the bills and wages of a given company. That notwithstanding, Alexander Kjerulf, wrote in the huffpost that, this maxim leads to bad customer service. He put forward five reasons why companies should not uphold this thinking in the contemporary business environment. The reasons are:

1) It makes employees unhappy
2) It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage
3) Some customers are bad for business
4) It results in worse customer service
5) Some customers are just plain wrong

There is simply an argument that businesses that think the customer is always right end up betraying employees. Gordon Bethune in his book: ‘from worst to first’ stated: “The fact is that some customers are just plain wrong, that businesses are better off without them, and that managers siding with unreasonable customers over employees is a very bad idea, that results in worse customer service.”

In a contemporary business environment, full of competition and similarity of products and prices, companies continue to seek an effective customer strategy. When companies try to please all customers, by making them always right- it ends up negatively affecting employee morale and customer experience. The salient point is, to make customers understand their rights and use discretion to meet their needs even when they are wrong. It is more of a discretionary than a mandatory action, to go over and beyond- even when a customer is at the wrong. If you fail to remember anything, do keep this thought to heart, ‘customers are not always right but showing them their right is the meat to CX.’

Dateme Tamuno
Dateme Tamuno (Tubotamuno) is currently working as part of the SEO and PPC delivery team for UK based digital agency, Cariad Marketing. He has also completed a book on user-generated content marketing.


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