3 Reasons the Customer is NOT Always Right and That’s Okay

There are many things that were once seen as gospel that no longer apply in the modern world.

In the Middle Ages people believed the world was flat. At the time of the Great Plague sneezing was believed to be the act of releasing the devil’s evil influences.

And in 1909 in a bid to convince employees to give good customer service, the founder of Selfridges, Harry Gordon Selfridge, coined the term ‘the customer is always right’.

While many now know the world is indeed round having not fallen off the edge of the Earth and despite our habit of blessing we don’t truly believe that an *achoo* is really a cause for prayer, there are still many of us believing the hype.

Well, enough already.

Here’s 3 reasons the customer is NOT always right and that’s okay, because they don’t need to be right to deliver good customer service.

Evidence that succumbing to this historic notion that customer service agents should bow to a customers every whim is just not good business or good customer service.

1. You’re the expert: customers make mistakes too

Customers do make mistakes
I am the expert. Of tea. Or is this coffee? 

Whatever business you’re working for you have the training and experience to fully understand the product, service or trade. When a customer calls you there will have preconceived ideas that are not necessarily accurate.

Assuming they are right is not offering them the best service.

To put this into context, a customer may ring asking for a specific phone contract that their friend recommended. On questioning you discover that they don’t need as much data, rely more heavily on texts and would be better suited to another contract that will actually save them money. The best way to serve them is to recommend the more affordable contract.

Now let’s consider the role of a tradesman. A survey revealed that 32.2% of tradespeople get frustrated when customers offer advice on the job they’ve been hired to complete. They are the experts and skilled in their field. Consider a scenario where a construction worker is tasked with building an extension. The homeowner insists on a change or use of a material that isn’t sustainable or safe. Should the tradesman do it anyway?

Lastly, and perhaps the most extreme example, what about a surgeon? If the ‘customer is always right’ then should a surgeon should go against their own experience and expertise and perform surgery as requested by a patient? You’re the expert.  It’s your job to serve the customer using your skills and expertise to deliver the best possible result for them, not agree with them.

2. Happier employees create happier customer experiences

Happy Employees. Work is FUN!
New study: Watching videos of doggos on reddit makes employees happy. 

On the flip side of the phrase ‘the customer is always right’ is the harsh reality that employers are therefore making employees ‘always wrong’.

Well, that sucks and it a huge blow to employee morale. Not only does this lead to unhappy staff that feel undervalued and frustrated, it also impacts productivity.

A Gartner study of more than 2,000 customer service reps from nearly 30 companies worldwide shows that by making reps a priority can increase their productivity by 19% and their intent to leave decreases by 25%. If employees are happy they are much more likely to deliver exceptional customer service.

Highlighting the negative impact of following a ‘customer is always right’ policy, Principal Executive Advisor at Gartner Rick DeLisi said:

“The element that most service leaders overlook is what we call the ‘rep experience’ – we’re so focused on the customer experience and how it translates into increased loyalty. Or, why it’s important to feel empathy for the customer… However, our research shows that the rep experience is just as crucial to ensuring a high-quality customer experience.”

Unhappy employees are also more likely to leave, which is why many call centres that put the customers first struggle with high staff turnover. In fact, call centres replace around 26% of their front-line agents each year, in comparison to an average UK turnover rate of 15%.

This doesn’t just cost the business money recruiting and training new staff, it also impacts customer experience.

Client Director and Co-Founder of Evaluagent Michelle Dinsmore explains:

“The more agents a call centre loses due to turnover and churn, the more they lose out on their DNA. This leads to even further disengagement, a disenfranchised workforce, and a damaged customer experience. On the other hand – organic skills transfer, high morale, and true teamwork come from a highly engaged workforce with a low turnover. The reality is that the cost of agent turnover is much more than a number. It can have a direct effect on the entire business, and your customers. The key to negating the effects of high agent turnover comes only from ensuring staff are engaged with the work they do.”

3. Unreasonable customers are just not good for business

Unconventional Customer Service
I call this piece, ‘Death by Post-it Notes’

“Not all customers deserve your company’s best efforts. And despite what the old adage says, the customer is most definitely not always right. Because in the world of customer centricity, there are good customers…and then there is everybody else.” – Peter Fader, Customer Centricity.

In his book Customer Centricity Peter Fader encourages business owners to focus on the customers who matter most. This doesn’t mean that ‘difficult’ customer should automatically be ejected, but it does mean that customer service reps need to be trained on how to reduce time wasted on the ‘wrong’ customers.

Unreasonable customers can eat away at finite resources and decrease productivity, they can also have a negative impact on employee morale, which brings us right back to point 2.

In his book The 4 Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss recounts a personal story early in the book which details how he nearly hit his mental breaking point because he was trying to please every customer. He soon discovered that a few customers were taking the majority of his bandwidth and causing the majority of his stress, though they contributed only a relatively small percentage of the company’s total revenue. CEO of Cramer-Krasselt also wrote:

“There comes a time when no matter what the acclaim for the work, no matter what that visibility, no matter how good of a relationship we have with the marketing department…in the end, no amount of money makes it worthwhile.”

Now, we’re not saying you should put the phone down on customers that don’t float your boat, but we are saying that these firsthand experiences and perspectives do reiterate the point, the customer is not always right. Most importantly, with the right training and guidance from a team manager who makes you a priority, you will learn how to manage unreasonable customers effectively, without agreeing with every word they say.

Reframing customer service ‘best practice’ for a modern world

Unreasonable Customers
Yeah, put 10 grand on black, ta. 

As more business are enhancing customer experience, they’re also realising that customer service isn’t just about problem fixing. It’s about sharing stories, creating experiences, building enthusiasm and gaining feedback.

A traditional ‘best practice’ approach that applies value to the idea that the customer is always right just isn’t fit for purpose in the modern world. This has led many businesses to take more unconventional approaches to customer service. Or as Brighton accountancy firm Crunch put it:

“The phrase ‘the customer is always right’ is often bandied about, but if you’re your own boss, you have the luxury of deciding how closely this outdated mantra needs following. As these companies have shown, you don’t always have to shy away from controversy – standing up for yourself can be just as beneficial in business as it is in every other walk of life.”

The great news for jobseekers is that jobs in customer service are now also a lot more rewarding as a consequence. Gone are the days when the idea of working in customer service conjured the image of depressed lemmings in grey suits with headsets churning through soul destroying call after call.

You can search through the latest customer service vacancies or get some job hunting inspiration from our recent blog offering 5 ways to boost your January job search.

Alternatively, if you’re an employer in Brighton keen to find your next customer service rep, you can also post your job online now.