Is the Customer Always Right?
“The customer is always right” is an instructive saying that directs those dealing with the public to make customer satisfaction one of their highest priorities. This can be difficult when a customer has an issue with your organization and truly believes they are in the right. They may be making demands that are impossible for you to meet. So, what’s the best way to handle these situations?
A key point to keep in mind is that the customer is always right, in their own mind, although not necessarily in reality. It’s critical not to disagree with the customer because that makes them angry and argumentative. It’s not in anyone’s best interest to tell a customer they are wrong.
- Don’t focus on the negative.
- Don’t even say the word, “no.”
- Don’t waste time focusing on who’s right or wrong in a situation. Instead, focus on the positive—on what you can do to help the customer.
In the following Customer Service Roundtable we have the insights of several experienced and successful customer service professionals. In this discussion, they share their knowledge for turning around difficult customer service situations and helping the customer get to “yes.”
Ron – IT Support Help Desk
“According to the customer, the customer is always right. According to the real world and policies and all the other variables that are involved, there may be discrepancies to that. A wise person once told me that the customer is always right in their own mind. Often they’re calling because they’ve misunderstood something: They’ve misread a bill, or they’ve misread a policy, and they’re calling you to fix it for them because they know they’re right, and you guys did it wrong, and they want you to fix it.
“But you’ve read the policies. You know them in and out. You’ve gone through the training, and the customer is incorrect. Don’t tell them they’re incorrect, but help them to understand that they are.
“If you say something to the customer like, “No, you’re wrong,” you’ve just said one of the most dangerous words you can use in customer service, and that word is “no.” Learning to “say no without saying no,” is to be able to communicate that in a way they understand it without a battle, and a lot of times you can end your call with a smile, and they will thank you for your help.”
BOTTOM LINE: The customer is always right—in their own mind. Learn to convey “no” without actually saying it.
Kathy – Regional Manager
“I learned from a very smart customer service trainer years ago that you don’t want to tell the customer what you can’t do. What you want to do is tell them what you can do. And so managers first have to empower the staff to be able to make decisions so, when dealing with a customer, the employee knows what they can and can’t do. So it’s most important to good customer service in this field to know what you can do.
“Then find that fine line where you can satisfy the customer, and even if they are asking for something that you can’t provide, you still can look for that fine line to satisfy them without giving them something they may have asked for but that you really cannot do.
“So it’s searching them out, building rapport, listening to them, talking to them, acknowledging them, and then trying to find that place they can still be satisfied without maybe giving them everything that they are asking for because you can’t always give everything.”
BOTTOM LINE: Don’t tell the customer what you can’t do. Tell them what you can do. Strive to find a way to satisfy the customer.
Cindy – Call Center Manager
“The customer is always right, and something I live by is imagining that anything I would tell a customer could end up as a headline the next day in a newspaper. Whether it’s through the spoken word, or through a customer service e-mail, or social media.
“So, how horrible a “headline” would it be that XYZ Corporation said the customer is wrong? You can’t tell them that they’re wrong, but it’s our job to educate them, and inform them, and tell them what we can do to make sure they feel good when the call is finished. We want them to walk away with a sense that they were right, and they can if we don’t tell them they weren’t.”
BOTTOM LINE: Conduct yourself as if it’ll be tomorrow’s headline. The key is making the customer feel they are right.
Marty – Financial Services Advisor
“Let the customer believe they are right because, in their mind, they are right. And when they call in, or come in and see you with whatever issue they have, they are right. So you have to put yourself in their shoes and on their side of the table and try to resolve the issue. In the end, they may realize that what they were asking maybe was impossible and was not right, but it’s our job just to complete the task and let them move on and make sure they are happy.”
BOTTOM LINE: In the customer’s mind, they are right.
Yuri – Call Center Professional
“I believe that the customer is not always right, but the artful part of customer service is conveying to them in a fair, measured way what the policies are that you are governed by. Most people realize that what they are wanting may not be the fairest way of conducting business, but they want what they want. If you can say, well, let’s talk about it, that will kind of de-fuse the situation to a certain degree. When you let them know we’re going to arrive at a conclusion that is going to be fair to both parties, they generally will agree that you’re right, and that you’re being fair, and they’re very accepting of the particular outcome.“
BOTTOM LINE: The artful part of customer service is conveying policy in a fair and measured way. Try to arrive at a conclusion that is fair for all parties.
Flery – Client Service Manager
“Is the customer always right? Absolutely! The moment you say the customer is wrong is when you need to realize you are about to lose this customer. So what I usually do with a situation like that is to ask myself if I can afford to lose this customer. If the answer is no, then the customer is right!
“So, I always think that the customer is right, and in the end you have to deliver what they want anyway. It’s just that customer service is such an art, and we all know that you have to somehow figure out how to resolve the issue and make the customer happy, but the bottom line is that the customer is right.”
BOTTOM LINE: Ask yourself, can I afford to lose this customer?
Ron – IT Support Help Desk
“Part of dealing with a customer that is right is to put yourself in their shoes, understand why they are right, understand where they are coming from. When they call you, they know what they know, they have information, maybe even a letter directly from you with specifics, and whether the caller is correct or not, you have to first understand why they think they are right. That way you can determine a best way to communicate with them so they understand the other side.
“You have to put yourself in their shoes, yes, but you also have to keep it fair, as well. You have to be fair to them, because, first of all, as we’ve said, the worst word in customer service is “no.” You don’t have to say that word to come to an understanding with the caller that is fair to all. Help them understand where you’re coming from rather than have them think you’re just flat out denying them whatever they’re asking for. Explain the “why’s behind the what’s.”
“You don’t have to be overly wordy in the explanation. You don’t have to give them all the “legalese.” You don’t have to explain every step of the process. But at least explain enough that they understand those “why’s behind the what’s.” Because, when they understand, they’ll still be right but may have changed their opinion totally from when they first called.”
BOTTOM LINE: Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Be fair to the customer as well as your organization. Explain the “why’s” behind the “what’s.”
Remembering the motto, “The customer is always right,” is an important first step to keeping positive customer interactions, even when things start out in the rough. Stamp out the word, “no,” from your vocabulary in your customer interactions to avoid fueling arguments over who is technically right or wrong. Customer service professionals can find common ground to avoid fueling a conflict with a customer and arrive at a resolution to an issue that is fair to all parties. Honoring the customer as being “right” gives you an opportunity to control the call and finish it with a satisfied client.