Is the customer REALLY always right? We throw that comment around haphazardly without truly considering the ramifications of such an approach. I’d submit that they’re not. There are plenty of times the customer is wrong (and sometimes, very much so).
First, let’s explore the implications of a “customer is always right” approach. On the upside, they are right in that they perceive a problem. They believe they are not getting the service they deserve. Treating a customer with the utmost of respect in this situation is absolutely good business. There’s nothing more infuriating than being blown off or not listened to as a customer (for a good example, see this post on customer disservice). Treating the customer with respect, whether the issue is resolved in their favor or not, will at least have them telling their friends they were treated appropriately. While they may not be exceedingly happy with the outcome, they won’t be out there bashing your company for both problems AND bad service.
So let’s explore a problem where the customer’s request is outside the bounds of what your company would ordinarily deliver. The customer might be asking for something because they’re not clear on what your organization delivers or promises. In these cases, sometimes a simple education of the product’s features (or lack thereof) can bridge the disconnect from their expectations to what you deliver. Okay. That problem is solved.
But what if they aren’t satisfied? What if they’re still insistent that they’re “the customer and the customer is always right?” What if they’re asking for something outside the bounds of what you can or should deliver? Let’s look at a real example.Let’s explore Ace Home Magic. This particular organization performs home cleaning services (they come to clean every month). They advertise that “You’ll be thrilled with the results. We guarantee it!” Mr. Jones uses their services on his 20-year old fixer-upper house. He pays $150/month to have the work done. He calls in a few days after his most recent cleaning.
“Thank you for calling Ace Home Magic. How may I help you?”
“You guys guaranteed I’d be thrilled with the results of the cleaning. I’m not thrilled.”
“I’m sorry to hear that sir. I can have our people come back out and clean again. Would that be acceptable?”
“Yeah. I guess so. Thanks.”
(Good customer service rep – understood the problem and offered a solution to meet it without giving away the farm). The service was re-performed. Mr. Jones still wasn’t thrilled.
“Yeah. You guys cleaned my house again and I’m still not thrilled.”
“I’m sorry about that sir. I can either have them come again to redo it or I can offer you a refund. Can you let me know specifically what you’re unhappy with? This way I can tell our people what to focus on.”
“Have them come again. They’re not cleaning under the appliances at all. That and the grout in the bathrooms is gray. It’s supposed to be white.”
“I’ll let them know sir.”
So the cleaners go out. Mr. Jones explains how he wants them to move the refrigerator and the dishwasher and clean the floor under them. He also wants the grout cleaned with muriatic acid to remove the gray. It’s gone from a home cleaning project to a home renovation project. The cleaners tell Mr. Jones they can’t perform that level of services. He gets enraged and threatens to call their superior. The cleaners still say no.
But the customer is always right, right? Wrong.
“Your cleaners came today. I thought you were going to tell them to clean under the appliances and clean the grout! I’m not thrilled at all. Let me talk to the manager.”
“Hi Mr. Jones. I’m the manager. Listen, I’ve spoken to my people. They’ve come out three times to perform the services on your home. I know you’ve been a customer for over a year now and we really value you. Here’s the thing – you’re asking them to do things we don’t do. For anyone. So either we can perform our standard services or I’m going to have to ask that we end our business relationship amicably as it’s clear we cannot meet your expectations. That creates a situation that’s not fair and frustrating for you and not fair to my employees.”
“You’re firing me as a customer? Is that what you’re saying?”
“You could look at it that way Mr. Jones. I’d love to keep serving you but it’s clear we can’t meet your high expectations. I actually think it’s best if we part ways. I’m sorry.”
Yes. Mr. Jones just got fired. But that’s bad, right? Not necessarily. He was becoming a tremendous operational drain and was causing issues for the employees. Yes, as a manager you need to service your customers but you also have to care for your employees. At some point that balance tips. Learn to recognize it. It doesn’t mean you have to fire every demanding customer – simply educate them on what you do and don’t do. Set proper expectations. If after this education they still demand more than you offer, you might be best off (for the sake of your team and your P&L) amicably parting ways with that customer. In the end, that might be the best option for all involved.
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC