Is the Customer Always Right?

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All organisations need to continually work hard to keep their customers happy because failing to do so has consequences.  In private enterprise there is the risk the customer may choose to spend their money elsewhere.  For government departments unhappy customers can take up a lot of time and resources trying to placate them.  For non-profits unhappy customers may seek other organisations for support or they may just give up.

We’ve had a situation come up recently where a former client was demanding, and I do mean demanding very aggressively, we do some work for him because he was having problems with the Australian Taxation Office because they hadn’t lodged some forms for two (2) years and therefore it must be our fault.   Based on what they said, it leads us to believe they haven’t lodged their 2017 or 2018 tax returns yet so they are further behind than just what they were wanting us to deal with.

There are lots of sales experts and marketing consultants who will tell us the customer is always right.  But are they?  Was our former client right?  Not in our view.  Not by a long shot.

So why are they a former client?  For one thing, they didn’t pay us.  We made sixteen (16) attempts to contact them seeking payment after we completed the work and lodged their returns even though we were under no obligation to do so until we had been paid.

For another, they seemingly suddenly dropped off the face of the earth with mail bouncing back, their phone numbers intermittingly seemingly cancelled and then restored but unanswered and no response to emails.

When did we stop doing stuff for them?  About two (2) years ago. Wonder if that is a coincidence?

The simple reality is sometimes, customers are just plain wrong.  We can all make mistakes, we can all be wrong from time to time and that includes customers.   If a shopper at the supermarket checkout complains because they say the avocados they are wanting to buy are really tomatoes they are wrong.

Customer service is the cornerstone of successful organisations, regardless of size and the nature of their operations.  Great customer service and doing the best job possible to accommodate and look after customers is vital.

The adage the customer is always right is actually a disservice to team members within an organisation as they are the real losers in the long run.

Giving in to the unhappy customer just to keep them happy can be taken by employees to be a slap in the face.  The employee may have been polite and helpful at all times in trying to resolve the issue/s, they may have followed policies and procedures to the letter.  If higher level manager or business owner gives in to the customer, what message does it send to the employee who has followed their instructions?  Certainly doesn’t show them they are being supported.

Some customers are bad for business regardless of whether or not the business makes or loses money from having the customer.  While the bad customer may be highly profitable, having to deal with them can hurt employees’ self-esteem, cause unnecessary frustration which can impact in other areas of their work and even lead to good customers receiving a lower standard of service.   Not good for the business or staff in the long-run.

Should poor behaviour really be rewarded?  If we reward bad customers they are only encouraged and embolden to continue acting that way.  The end result is bad customers get better treatment, better conditions than good customers.  Shouldn’t we be rewarding those customers that make our day enjoyable instead in the hope good customers will send other good customers our way?

The cold hard fact is organisations need customers and not all customers are going to be pleasant to deal with, and they won’t always be right.  Focus on customers you want to deal with, customers who make staff feel good about what they do.  In the long run, the organisation and all involved will be happier.

Troy Pearce

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