The Customer Is Always Right? Here’s When They Are and Aren’t Right

We’ve all been there, a customer has unreasonable demands yet we give in to them because “the customer is always right”. But, the customer isn’t always right! “The customer is always right” is a long-standing service mantra emphasizing the importance of customer satisfaction. However, the reality is more nuanced.

Clarity is necessary to understand when the principle does and doesn’t apply. Here are situations when the customer can be considered “right” and when they might not be:

When the Customer is “Right”

  • Experience expectations: When customers express dissatisfaction with their service experience or the usability of a product, their perception is their reality. For example, if a customer finds a website difficult to navigate and complains, their experience should be taken seriously and addressed.
  • Feedback on market needs: Customers often have valuable insights into what they need and want. For example, a customer requests a feature that many others have also asked for; this is an indication of a potential market need.
  • Quality issues: When customers report a legitimate problem with a product or service. For example, a customer receives a product that is damaged or not functioning as advertised.

When the Customer Isn’t “Right”

  • Unreasonable demands: Customers may sometimes request things that are beyond the scope of what the business can reasonably provide. For example, a customer insists on a service that would require an unsustainable amount of resources or time to fulfill.
  • Misuse of products or services: When customers use products in ways they are not intended to be used and then complain about the outcome. For example, a customer uses a hairdryer in the shower and then complains that it broke.
  • Expertise and safety: Situations where customer demands go against expert advice or safety regulations. For example, a customer insists on a medication dosage that contradicts medical guidelines.
  • Abusive or disrespectful behavior: The customer is not right when they are abusive or disrespectful to staff. For example, a customer verbally abuses an employee over a policy the employee has no control over.
  • Conflict with other customers’ rights: When satisfying one customer’s demands infringes on the rights or experiences of other customers. For example, a customer requests excessively loud music in a cafe, disturbing other patrons.
  • Cost-benefit imbalance: When a customer’s demands would lead to a disproportionate cost compared to the benefit they receive. For example, a customer expects a small business to provide 24/7 phone support, which isn’t feasible.

Bottom line: “The customer is always right” should not be taken literally, but rather as a guiding principle that customer satisfaction is vital. It’s about finding a balance between being customer-centric and maintaining the integrity, policies, and health of the business. Listening to customers, empathizing with their concerns, and finding mutually beneficial solutions is the key to good service, even when the customer isn’t “right” in the traditional sense.