Debunking the Myth: The Customer is Always Right

When I got my start in retail, I was a sophomore in high school. It was 1994 and to say customer service was “different” is an understatement. My manager at that position would give weekly informational meetings that also served as pep-talks for the shift we were about to start. She would say, “No matter what, the customer is always right.” 
We knew the customer wasn’t always right. That wasn’t important, however. If a customer brought back a shirt and said the noticeable stain was there when he got it home, we apologized and issued a refund or let him exchange. It didn’t matter that I didn’t believe him, and you better believe I would have lost my job if I showed even a little bit of hesitation.
What was important was good service. It was important to show people that you care about them and the experience they have in your establishment. While you might think this attitude would allow people to walk all over you and run your inventory or staff into the ground, it was actually the opposite—customers loved the extra special service, friendly faces and undying support they received in the store. So, they came back…over and over again. Yes, there were a couple that took advantage, but they were few and far between, and all the loyal customers more than made up for those who were not. 
As I continue to feel the pulse of America and its attitude toward customer service, it’s surprising to me how many customers—not managers—disagree with this approach. In fact, 83.8% of respondents to a recent survey said “no” when asked if the customer is always right.
What does this serve to prove? Taking into consideration everything else we know about what customers are looking for these days in a service experience, I would say that it shows customers just expect to be treated fairly. While pomp and circumstance is nice, customers just want to know they are respected and that they can achieve the outcome they expect from their decision to enter an establishment. So, if Mary goes to a store to buy a pink dress, she expects someone to help her find a pink dress. And, while finding the pink dress makes the experience all the better, if the store doesn’t have one, she will simply remember how well she was treated. If it’s worth it, that store will get repeat business whether or not they had the pink dress. 
Imagine that…employees doing exactly what they should be doing to help customers fill their needs; and, in the process, treating customers in a way that makes them want to keep coming back. Just a thought…

About Author

Amy Day

Amy Day is the Associate Publisher and a contributing writer for Strategy Magazine. She has an MBA in Marketing Communications and Strategic Leadership from Southern Methodist University and has been on staff with Strategy for nearly a decade. She is an award-winning business executive with customer service credentials from the Disney Institute. In addition to editorial oversight, her regular beat includes business, customer service, publishing, and family/child wellness.

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