Is the Customer Always Right? Maybe Not

This phrase has been the mantra in retail as long as I can remember. “The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London. The phrase was meant to assure customers that they will get excellent service. It was also used convince employees to give good service.

This reasoning is flawed. It is backward. Your staff must come first. You spend time and money on training them to be the best they can be. You motivate them and pay them well. You trust them with the keys to your store and the combination to the safe. In return, they are loyal to you and work hard to build your business by making your customers as happy as they are.

If you always take the side of the client in a dispute, you will eventually lose your employee’s loyalty and respect. To make matters worse, customers now use the phrase to make unreasonable demands, often threatening retaliation on social media if you don’t give them what they want. The abusive customer gains an unfair advantage over your employees and your nicer customers.


Sometimes you need to fire a customer
OK, there are times when the customer is right, and an employee is the problem and needs to be let go. Chances are, you already knew that day would come. But if you have good, loyal, well-trained staff; your job is to give them support. They need to know that if they follow their training and good instincts, you will have their back. As much as you rely on them, they rely on you. This bond of trust is one that should never be broken.

Some customers are toxic to your business. If they continually bring stress and discomfort to your staff, they need to go. Yes, you will lose some sales, but the dignity and respect you show for your employees are so much more important than a some lost profit. It is better to cultivate customers that appreciate and respect your staff.

Social retaliation
Bad reviews and social media blasts are the weapons of choice for today’s “Always right” customer. If it happens, wait a day or so.  If the post falls off with just a few comments, it’s over and no longer an issue.  If it escalates and continues, make a simple statement that gently tells them they are no longer welcome. Try something like:

“At XYZ Jewellers, we are sorry that you are unhappy with your experience. Our amazing team did their best to please you. We sincerely wish you the best and hope you can find someone to make you as happy as we make the rest of our customers. Good luck and have a beautiful day.”

Then leave it alone. Resist the temptation to debate them online or to defend yourself. It will only give them fuel to keep the fire raging. They want to draw you into the drama. Why aggravate yourself and waste time on a bad customer? Move on to making your good customers happy.

Be fair
Look at each dispute with fresh eyes and an open mind. If the customer is indeed right, find a way to correct the issue and make them happy. Use the situation as a lesson at your next training session. If an employee was in error, work with them to prevent a future occurrence.

But the customer is wrong, stand up for your employee. A good customer will appreciate and respect your honesty. If the customer becomes a problem or abusive…. don’t be afraid to ask them to leave. The customer is not always right.

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