For anyone who is in a service role, you’ve probably heard, “The customer is always right.”  It’s been a coined phrase for so long, customers seem to swear by it.  However, I’m not so sure about the rest of us who are entrusted to deliver exceptional service.

Here’s some food for thought:  “The customer is always right” can be interpreted as though everyone and everything else is wrong if the desired outcome isn’t reached.  That way of thinking may subliminally encourage customers to take on a promoted sense of entitlement (usually unjustified and often manifested through tantrums).  From a professional standpoint, it can result in leaders undermining their employees and putting the needs of the clients or business last.  The effects and impact of this can be devastating: loss of morale, lack of trust and camaraderie, feeling unsupported, discouraged, and frustrated.  Some employees eventually stop caring and when that happens, there’s an even greater catastrophe. Customer issues don’t get resolved, tone and professionalism become questionable or unacceptable, resources are used less often, listening stops, and the reputation/integrity of the company is compromised or damaged. Imagine the ramifications for clients and stakeholders.

“The customer is always right” was coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge (according to Huffington Post and Wikipedia) and the intent was to convince customers that they’d get good service and convince employees to give it.  Although derived from good intentions, it has definitely lost its luster.

How many times has an “Unfortunately… or “I’m sorry…” statement been turned into “We can make an exception this time” after a complaint reaches upper management?  Let’s face it, no one wants to look bad or ever tarnish their company’s reputation.  Also, studies have shown that when exceptional service is achieved, customers are more likely to continue using or supporting the same business long-term and they recruit others.

This is not about good or bad, right or wrong.  The point is to take a look at the big picture before you embrace and adopt common clichés as standard practice.  If customers request something unreasonable or outside of policy, then sometimes the answer will be no, and that’s okay.  Many find solace in being presented with other options.

All in all, there are many mottos that help incite excellence. However, the general consensus is that “The customer is always right” isn’t one of them.

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