5 Reasons Why the Myth ‘Customer Is Always Right’ Is Wrong

Coined originally by the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1909, the phrase “Customer Is Always Right” is often used by businesses to communicate to their customers that they can always expect good services or to impress upon their employees to provide best services to their customers. However, here are 5 reasons why businesses should avoid using this phrase as it does not ensure good customer service.

#1: Employees Feel Unhappy

Gordon Bethune, a brash Texan, is best known for turning around Continental Airlines. He has mentioned in his book titled “From Worst to First” written in 1998 that he wanted to ensure that both the employees and customers were happy with the way in which Continental treated them. Therefore, he made it clear to all that the maxim would not be used at all at Continental and whenever conflicts arose between unruly customers and employees, he always stood with the employees. This is because employees have are forced to put up with such stuff on a daily basis.

According to him, it is right to treat employees like serfs. He is of the opinion that their efforts have to be appreciated. If employees feel that the management will not support them when such disputes arise, they will feel dejected even if it is a trivial case.

It is for this reason that Bethune trusts his people over customers that are unreasonable. According to him, taking such an attitude brings about a better balance. The feeling that the customer is always right is a bad idea because it favors the customer and causes resentment among the employees.

There may be examples of employees treating customers in a bad way, but tackling this issue by declaring that the customer is right can be counter-productive.

#2: Abusive Customers Enjoy an Unfair Advantage

Important Things You Must Know Before Seeking a Bank Loan for BusinessAbusive customers try to take advantage by demanding just about anything under the guise that the customer is always right. However, the employees’ jobs become all the more difficult as they have to handle such customers.

Maintaining an attitude that the customer is always right also results in abusive customers getting a better treatment compared to people who are nice. Actually, it makes more sense to be nice to non-abusive customers so that they come back and buy again.

#3: Some Customers May be Bad for Business

Most businesses believe that they would be better off if they had more customers. This is not true. Some customers are actually bad for business. The experience of ServiceGruppen, an IT service provider in Denmark, makes it clear that some customers are not good for Business.

A service technician of the company arrived at the site of a customer for carrying out some maintenance task. He was shocked at the rude manner in which the customer treated him. After completing the task, he returned to his office and informed the management about his experience. The company promptly cancelled their contract with the customer.

It should be noted that the company did not bother to make any financial calculations before canceling the contract with the customer. The company did not even worry as to whether it would make money or not in the long run. The company just chose to treat its employee right.

4: It Is Not Good Customer Service

The approach of Rosenbluth International, a corporate travel agency, is an example worth mentioning in this regard. The company has since been acquired by American Express. CEO of the travel agency Hal Rosenbluth has written a book wherein he explains the company’s approach “Put The Customer Second”.

According to Rosenbluth, when the employees are put first, they in turn put the customers first. He says if employees are put first, they will not only be happy at work, but also give better customer service for the following reasons:

  • They tend to take care of other people, which includes customers
  • They will have more energy
  • If they are happy, they will talk and interact better with customers
  • They will be more motivated

On the other hand, if the company and the management keep saying that the customers are always right and do not side with their employees, it tells them clearly that:

  • The company does not value their employees
  • Being fair to the employees is not important for the company
  • Employees need not be respected by customers
  • Employees should put up with the whims and fancies of customers

If this attitude prevails in a company, employees will not pay much attention to service. In reality, genuine good service is never possible. At best, what customers can expect is fake good service.

#5: Some Customers Are Blatantly Wrong

Exploring the secrets behind the success of Southwest Airlines authors Kevin and Jackie Freiberg point out that Herb Kelleher, co-founder and former CEO of the commercial airliner, puts his employees first, even if a few of the customers have to be dismissed. According to Kelleher customers are not always right. He says that “Customer Is Always Right” is the biggest betrayal of employees that a boss can commit. Customers can be wrong sometimes and the doesn’t have to carry them. Southwest Airlines writes to such customers and tells them to fly somebody else and not abuse their people.

A story from Bethune’s book makes the concept even more clear. A child wearing a hat with Nazi and KKK logos once offended an attendant in a Continental flight. The attendant asked the kid’s father to put the hat away. He refused to do so. The flight attendant spoke to the first officer. The first officer explained to the passenger that interfering with a crew member’s duties was a crime as per FAA regulation.

Though the child’s father did put away the hat, he did not like it. He wrote several nasty letters and even came to discuss the matter with Bethune. According to Bethune, the kid’s father just bought a ticket on the company’s airplane, which means that the airlines will take him wherever he wanted to go. However, it does not mean that his rude and offensive behavior has to be tolerated.

The examples given above show that businesses need to put their employees first if they want them to put the customers first.

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