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Customer is the King, but he is not God. Customer need not always be right, yet it is our obligation to serve the customer to the best of our ability. The saying “Customer is always right” is only meaningful in a broader, educative or exhortative sense, rather than in a literal, descriptive sense. The customer-is-always-right attitude is similar to positive thinking, in that it is more a way of looking at things than a factual account based on observation. As service personnel, we are encouraged to see the rightness of the customer’s point of view, and oblige his or her demands as far as reasonability permits.
But sometimes customers can be frustratingly unreasonable. At times they can even deliberately lie and try to cheat, at other times they could be obviously taking out completely unrelated frustrations on us (Verghis, 2006, p. 4). Customers come in all varieties, the good, the bad and the ugly. Naturally some of them would not be very likeable, and yet we are beholden to respect them, be patient, polite and understanding with them to a surprisingly great extent.
The customer-is-always-right philosophy urges us to put ourselves in the shoes of customers, empathize with them — however, sometimes no matter how hard we may try to accommodate ourselves to the customer’s needs, the shoes could prove too unbearably tight on our feet, in which case we are left with no option but to politely return the shoes to the customer and send them off. As a simple example, if you are working at McDonald’s and a customer comes in and asks for lobster and champagne, you can try to persuade the customer that though these things are not available, other very scrumptious eatables are ready to be served.
If the customer still insists on having his own lobster and champagne, you have no alternative but to show the way out to the customer. You cannot let yourself adhere to the customer-is-always-right maxim fanatically, and go out of your way to please your customer at all costs, as by fetching the requested items from the neighborhood restaurant by yourself. We would like to treat our customer as if he is the king, but there are limits. The customer is always right — this is our ardent belief.
Yet we should be loose and flexible enough to be able to look reality in face, even when it sometimes stretches itself out of our belief framework. Customers need not only be always right, they could be outright wrong, they could even be trying to take unfair advantage of you and your business, just in the manner there are businesses which would try to cheat their customers to make a little extra profit. After all, it is only human beings that are present on the either side of the counter, and human beings by their very nature are devious and self-serving.
However, to the extent we are honest, sincere, and considerate, it falls within our responsibility to take the side of fairness and justice even if it sometime means to go against our customers. If you are working in an apparel stores, for example, which has somewhat generous return policies, you may from time to time come across customers who are genuinely trying to exploit your generosity, as when they take home dresses with the intention of wearing them on a special occasion and then return them later.
You have to be wary of such customers and to the extent possible encourage them to do their shopping elsewhere (Lapin, 2002, p. 76). We would like to believe the customer is always right. And life would be much simpler if it were always the case without exceptions. Unfortunately, regardless of whatever business you are in, you would have to expect the exceptions. Normally, the customer is always right, there is no doubt about it. But abnormal customers too are part of the normal business, and consequently the customer-is-always-rule becomes less reliable.
Blindly believing a customer is always right can sometimes be not only be harmful to your business but to your customers too. This point can be illustrated by the classic example of Ford Thunderbird. The original Thunderbird was a sleek, smooth, tightly designed two-seater. However, with a view to improve on car’s features, T-bird customers what they would like more of. Of course, they would like a little extra room. They would prefer a backseat and so on and so forth. So Ford introduced an “improved” four-seater (and later, a four-door).
To the dismay of everybody, the restyled car was no longer the sleek sportster that had proved to be so popular and attractive. Its charm paled, and what had been a fabulous addition to Ford’s line was now just another car (Lutz, 2003, p. 66). Chrysler too suffered similar setbacks for being oversensitive to customers’ wishes, as can be seen in the history of their models Dodge Shadow and Plymouth Sundance. “The customer is always right” is a principle that has to practiced judiciously.
Customers may not always be right, some may be complaining for no reason at all, and yet, at the end of the day, there could be many more customers with a legitimate reason for complaining. To complicate the situation further, it could be sometimes difficult to separate legitimate grievances from the spurious (Silva, 2005, p. 17). In real-life business, situations are often complex to take any single aphorism such the “customer is always right” as an absolute guideline. Yet we have to be inclined to follow such time-honored wisdom in all valid and reasonable circumstances.
References: Lapin, Daniel. 2002. Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money. Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley and Sons Lutz, Robert A. 2003. Guts: 8 Laws of Business from One of the Most Innovative Business Leaders of Our Time. Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley and Sons Silva, Ajit. 2005. Management: Best Practices to Develop New Leaders and Create a Quality Environment. Lincoln, NE : iUniverse Verghis, Philip. 2006. The Ultimate Customer Support Executive: Unleash the Power Your Customer. Summit, NJ : Silicon Press
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