Most people with experience working in customer service are familiar with the idiom, “the customer is always right.” The phrase was actually coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store.
Possibly those same people with experience in customer service find the phrase a little cringeworthy. Why? Because “the customer is always right” as a hard and fast rule affords the customer a lot of power. As a leader, it is your responsibility to consider and decide how much power a customer should actually have.
Can we apply Selfridge’s philosophy from 1909 to modern customer service situations?
In short: no. We recommend removing the term “always” from that phrase, but at that point it makes sense to just overhaul it entirely.
When you train your employees for client/account management, tech support, or customer service, you know that they will encounter customer situations that make them personally uncomfortable. You should create scenarios for them to practice and communicate with your team on precisely where the boundaries are crossed in a support interaction, and where an unsatisfied customer crosses into “abusive customer behavior.” Giving your employees the benefit of the doubt is a vote of confidence in them and a testament to a culture of trust in your workplace.
Employees who feel they have management on their team while addressing disputes or uncomfortable moments with customers will typically resolve the situation with respect for the business and consideration for their co-workers. Expecting employees to disrespect themselves or each other in order to please every customer may create an environment where your team feels less connected with their work and their obligations to the position.
In some cases, not standing your ground can hurt your business in the long run.
Business owners should be confident in what they have to offer. In our opinion, it just makes sense to offer the best, highest quality product or service you possibly can to your customer. Beyond offering a quality product, your business can seek out your demographic- your people- and communicate clearly and effectively with them.
Excellent customer service and attention to the customer’s experience should definitely be a priority. Offering a high quality product to your customers and then following through with quality customer service is an achievement that will elevate your business above the fray.
The leadership of your business can lay a framework for the whole team to interact with customers in a way that will more than satisfy most people. Employees should be provided everything they need to interact with customers in a way that is beneficial for the business.
Your company is allowed-and encouraged-to stand for something.
At the end of the day, how you treat your team and the culture you create in your workplace are related to how you want your business to operate in the world.
Cone Research found that 79% of people prefer to work for a socially responsible company and 79% of employees think it’s important that their companies match their charitable giving. Consumers- especially Millennials- are increasingly willing to pay more to support businesses with values.
The problem with “the customer is always right” is that it’s too simple. What if a customer is personally attacking or belittling an employee? What if an oblivious customer says, does or demands something that is culturally insensitive, condescending or completely inappropriate to one of your team members?
There are a lot of potential situations that require more nuanced processes to truly support your team and create an environment that demonstrates your values to your greater community of customers.
Don't enable or excuse the behavior of a customer who personally attacks or gets inappropriate with an employee. When customer service complaints arise in person, find a strategy to resolve the situation in a way that is supportive of your people. If the interaction is happening on your business social media accounts, you reserve the right to delete content that is offensive.
Ultimately, you want to be the kind of business that has such a stellar product or service and team that you can turn away the few customers who are just bad for business. You want a team you really believe in, and you want those people to know they have your vote of confidence. In other words, be sure you give your employees a chance to rise to the occasion.