We sometimes allow clichés to follow us throughout life, even when they are long since just that – a cliché. We are here to bust the myth. The grass is not always greener on the other side, all that glitters isn’t always gold, and the customer is not always right.

For many years we have allowed “the customer is always right” to dictate the way in which businesses are run and customer service is provided. However, sticking by that cliche could end up harming your business.

Where did the saying come from?

Is the customer really always right?
Source: GIPHY

“The customer is always right” is a phrase coined in the early 1900s by Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field. At that time, it was common to say “let the buyer beware”, indicating that buyers are to enter stores at their own risk and come out with whatever they could, no matter the treatment. 

These three men were all considered successful retailers who understood the importance of customer service, in a time when many customers were talked down to and treated unintelligently.

Although it is unclear who actually said it first, the three merchants ran their businesses based on this phrase. Staff in their stores were service-oriented, rather than sales-oriented, and treated customers as if they were right, even if they were wrong. This brought on a refreshing outlook to the treatment of the customers and their sales skyrocketed once word got out.

Today, this phrase is often used to encourage businesses to treat customers with the utmost respect and empathy, no matter the cause or outcome.

Why is the customer not always right?

Sometimes, they’re just wrong

Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes a customer might make a claim that is false, or misread the fine print upon purchasing a product or service. Are they to be considered right when they accuse you or one of your employees? Providing a just service or product is as important as servicing your customers. You need your employees, too. And “the customer is always right” means, inherently, that your employees are always wrong, which is not the working environment you want to instill.

Customer service suffers

When running your business, it is important to make your employees feel that you put them first. Customers can be demanding, rude, and often come with high expectations. Suggesting the customer is always right lets your employees feel that they can be walked all over, which is not a working environment that is conducive to your bottom line. Understanding when a customer is right versus when they are wrongfully treating your employees is imperative to maintaining a happy workplace and happy customers. And happy employees, just like happy customers, make the best ambassadors for your business.

Some customers aren’t worth the business

Entertaining the whims of a bossy and rude customer can often lead to a negative impression of your brand. This can cause other customers to reconsider their business with you, and also cause employees to think twice before applying to work with you. Unreasonable customers may not pay on time or waste your time with unreasonable demands, hindering your professionalism. 

Spending time on these types of customers can drain precious resources which could be used to serve other customers who are actually valuable to your business. Overall, dealing with customers who don’t respect your business harms your brand and your employee satisfaction, so are they really worth keeping?

You can’t make everyone happy

You cannot satisfy all customers

Claiming that each customer is always right alludes to the notion that you can please everyone, which is highly unattainable. As a business owner, you will learn that pleasing everyone comes with compromising on your brand’s vision and your business’s capabilities. This is not the right move for you. Not all customers will find what they’re looking for in your business, and that’s okay. Considering all customers to be right also means that everyone can be a customer, which doesn’t leave too much room for you to establish a unique brand offering.  Instead, focus on providing the best services and products for the customers that do suit your business.

Do right by your customers

Let’s look at the other side of this equation. Now, we don’t want you to take this in the complete opposite direction and think that none of your customers are right. The customer is right, when it makes sense for them to be right. Be accountable when the situation calls for it. Accepting responsibility and making an effort to correct the situation goes a long way with loyal customers, showing them that they are dealing with a business that cares about their experiences.

However, when a customer is wrong in their actions or makes a mistake themselves, be sure to be extra polite and empathetic, explain the situation and maintain a professional rapport. They might leave dissatisfied, but they will also know that you provide excellent customer service to everyone – right or wrong.