True or False: The Customer Is Always Right

That old adage is prevalent in the business world, but is it valid? This guide breaks down the benefits and downsides of this mentality and whether or not to adopt it.

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The customer is king, so they say. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone in any industry who disagrees with that general sentiment.

But who said the customer is always right? The customer, no doubt, but is there a reason to take this approach in your business? Is it even necessary to be that stringent about meeting every single whim of a customer? Or could this attitude actually be hurting your customer service — and even your business’ bottom line?

Let's talk about the idea of customer infallibility, as well as some of the benefits and downsides of this business mentality and whether it's the right attitude for your business.

4 benefits of the “customer is always right” mentality

Putting the customer first is a smart strategy. While you can debate whether this is the same as “The customer is always right,” here are some benefits you could theoretically attach to this mindset.

1. Increases customer satisfaction

A company that adopts this mentality will treat customers as No. 1. It’s commonplace in the business world, so your company would not be alone, which is why customers have come to expect it. It sets the tone for a relationship with customers and creates trust, thereby increasing the customer’s loyalty to the business. The customer is made to feel special and is more comfortable spending their dollars with your business.

2. Makes a company more competitive

Every business is looking for an edge over the competition, and providing exceptional customer service may be just the ticket. In an industry where competition is particularly fierce and there is little difference between competitors’ offerings, this approach could be a viable option. It’s also an effective customer retention strategy, so you are less at risk of a competitor poaching the customers you have.

3. Boosts brand image

Putting customer needs at the forefront helps a company build a strong reputation and a brand that people trust. It increases word-of-mouth marketing from happy customers and leads to strong ratings on review websites and social media. Considering the fact that companies spend massive amounts of money just on branding because it’s that important, this is a big potential benefit.

4. Sets a high standard for your team

Business owners are often trying to figure out ways to get their teams working at a high level, and by setting a high standard for customer service, you push them to take customer care to the next level. Team members understand that they have clear roles and expectations, allowing them to work with more focus. They know what it means to go the extra mile and are therefore more likely to do so.

4 limitations of thinking the customer is always right

While treating the customer well is undoubtedly important, treating them like they’re always right has some very clear downsides for companies.

1. Creates risk of exploitation

Sometimes, the customer is wrong. Period. And if they’re an entitled sort of individual, they may take to berating an employee for screwing up, which is unacceptable even if the employee did indeed make a mistake.

Some customers are dishonest and may seek to get a refund when they know they aren’t entitled to one simply by being loud and abusive. Some will expect staff to spend all their time helping them when other customers also need assistance.

As a result, the staff is demoralized and the business loses precious time, which is a direct threat to revenue. Often you’ll find your loudest customers don’t spend very much money and can easily be lost.

2. Causes employees to resent you

If you allow customers to constantly abuse your employees, they will come to resent you for not sticking up for them and become miserable. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before they find another job and leave you with a hole to fill.

You’ll be constantly scrambling to deal with high turnover, replacing outgoing employees who will go through the same cycle of abuse and leave after a few months. That’s no way to operate a business.

3. Introduces inefficiency

Running your company based on the needs of your loudest and most disgruntled customers is not an efficient way to do things. You should be operating based on which activities are resulting in the greatest traction and profitability for your company.

If that means cutting loose overly demanding customers and focusing all your time and effort on the most profitable ones, then do so without hesitation. Remember the Pareto principle: 20% of your customers are probably responsible for 80% of your revenue, so focus on them.

4. Erodes brand image

Good customer service helps your brand image, but treating every unhappy customer as infallible will lead to neglecting other customers and could result in bad customer reviews that hurt your brand. So what you thought was good customer service may actually be hurting your reputation.

Should your business employ the “customer is always right” motto?

Normally, you’d expect to get some hemming and hawing here that leaves the choice up to you. And while it is indeed your choice, I’m going to come right out and say it.

The clear answer to the question, “Is the customer always right?,” is “No.” Saying otherwise leaves your employees open to abuse and doesn’t even necessarily mean your customer service is markedly better than if you simply adopted some common-sense customer service practices.

Instead, use software to improve how you handle interactions overall. Simply being more organized and capable of handling customer complaints deftly will do much more to improve their satisfaction level than simply agreeing to their every whim (particularly if you’re unable to deliver).

Value the customer, but not at all costs. Remember, you must value your employees and guard your time as well. Allowing unreasonable customers to abuse staff or make you spend an inordinate amount of time on their issues while neglecting other customers does not make sense from a business standpoint or on a personal level.

It’s better to lose bad customers than neglect good customers and push staff out the door with a wrong-headed approach that hurts your brand in the long run.

Be proactive with your customer service

Believe it or not, many of your customers may not care about always being right. Chances are they just want good, consistent customer service, and they understand that you have other customers to serve. Instead of focusing on bending over backward to solve every customer’s problem no matter how unreasonable, look into overhauling your current customer service system.

Take a look at examples of good customer service at other companies and ask yourself how you could emulate them. Use customer service software to organize your operations and make sure customers are being dealt with in a timely manner.

Train your team to handle all situations, and teach them how to escalate if they encounter a difficult customer. By being proactive, you can avoid tolerating abuse while ensuring a solid customer experience every time.

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