Top 5 reasons why “The customer is Always Right” is wrong

The customer is always right?

When the customer isn’t right – for your business

One woman who frequently flew on Southwest, was constantly disappointed with every aspect of the company’s operation. In fact, she became known as the “Pen Pal” because after every flight she wrote in with a complaint.

She didn’t like the fact that the company didn’t assign seats; she didn’t like the absence of a first-class section; she didn’t like not having a meal in flight; she didn’t like Southwest’s boarding procedure; she didn’t like the flight attendants’ sporty uniforms and the casual atmosphere.

Her last letter, reciting a litany of complaints, momentarily stumped Southwest’s customer relations people. They bumped it up to Herb’s [Kelleher, CEO of Southwest] desk, with a note: ‘This one’s yours.’

In sixty seconds, Kelleher wrote back and said, ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.'”

The phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London in 1909, and is typically used by businesses to:

  1. Convince customers that they will get good service at this company
  2. Convince employees to give customers good service

Fortunately more and more businesses are abandoning this maxim – ironically because it leads to bad customer service.

Here are the top five reasons why “The customer is always right” is wrong.

1: It makes employees unhappy

Gordon Bethune is a brash Texan (as is Herb Kelleher, coincidentally) who is best known for turning Continental Airlines around “From Worst to First,” a story told in his book of the same title from 1998. He wanted to make sure that both customers and employees liked the way Continental treated them, so he made it very clear that the maxim “the customer is always right” didn’t hold sway at Continental.

In conflicts between employees and unruly customers he would consistently side with his people. Here’s how he puts it:

When we run into customers that we can’t reel back in, our loyalty is with our employees. They have to put up with this stuff every day. Just because you buy a ticket does not give you the right to abuse our employees . . .

We run more than 3 million people through our books every month. One or two of those people are going to be unreasonable, demanding jerks. When it’s a choice between supporting your employees, who work with you every day and make your product what it is, or some irate jerk who demands a free ticket to Paris because you ran out of peanuts, whose side are you going to be on?

You can’t treat your employees like serfs. You have to value them . . . If they think that you won’t support them when a customer is out of line, even the smallest problem can cause resentment.

So Bethune trusts his people over unreasonable customers. What I like about this attitude is that it balances employees and customers, where the “always right” maxim squarely favors the customer – which is not a good idea, because, as Bethune says, it causes resentment among employees.

Of course there are plenty of examples of bad employees giving lousy customer service. But trying to solve this by declaring the customer “always right” is counter-productive.

2: It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage

Using the slogan “The customer is always right” abusive customers can demand just about anything – they’re right by definition, aren’t they? This makes the employees’ job that much harder, when trying to rein them in.

Also, it means that abusive people get better treatment and conditions than nice people. That always seemed wrong to me, and it makes much more sense to be nice to the nice customers to keep them coming back.

3: Some customers are bad for business

Most businesses think that “the more customers the better”. But some customers are quite simply bad for business.

Danish IT service provider ServiceGruppen proudly tell this story:

One of our service technicians arrived at a customer’s site for a maintenance task, and to his great shock was treated very rudely by the customer.

When he’d finished the task and returned to the office, he told management about his experience. They promptly cancelled the customer’s contract.

Just like Kelleher dismissed the irate lady who kept complaining (but somehow also kept flying on Southwest), ServiceGruppen fired a bad customer. Note that it was not even a matter of a financial calculation – not a question of whether either company would make or lose money on that customer in the long run. It was a simple matter of respect and dignity and of treating their employees right.

4: It results in worse customer service

Rosenbluth International, a corporate travel agency, took it even further. CEO Hal Rosenbluth wrote an excellent book about their approach called Put The Customer Second – Put your people first and watch’em kick butt.

Rosenbluth argues that when you put the employees first, they put the customers first. Put employees first, and they will be happy at work. Employees who are happy at work give better customer service because:

  • They care more about other people, including customers
  • They have more energy
  • They are happy, meaning they are more fun to talk to and interact with
  • They are more motivated

On the other hand, when the company and management consistently side with customers instead of with employees, it sends a clear message that:

  • Employees are not valued
  • That treating employees fairly is not important
  • That employees have no right to respect from customers
  • That employees have to put up with everything from customers

When this attitude prevails, employees stop caring about service. At that point, real good service is almost impossible – the best customers can hope for is fake good service. You know the kind I mean: corteous on the surface only.

5: Some customers are just plain wrong

Herb Kelleher agrees, as this passage From Nuts! the excellent book about Southwest Airlines shows:

Herb Kelleher […] makes it clear that his employees come first — even if it means dismissing customers. But aren’t customers always right? “No, they are not,” Kelleher snaps. “And I think that’s one of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can possibly commit. The customer is sometimes wrong. We don’t carry those sorts of customers. We write to them and say, ‘Fly somebody else. Don’t abuse our people.'”

If you still think that the customer is always right, read this story from Bethune’s book “From Worst to First”:

A Continental flight attendant once was offended by a passenger’s child wearing a hat with Nazi and KKK emblems on it. It was pretty offensive stuff, so the attendant went to the kid’s father and asked him to put away the hat. “No,” the guy said. “My kid can wear what he wants, and I don’t care who likes it.”

The flight attendant went into the cockpit and got the first officer, who explained to the passenger the FAA regulation that makes it a crime to interfere with the duties of a crew member. The hat was causing other passengers and the crew discomfort, and that interfered with the flight attendant’s duties. The guy better put away the hat.

He did, but he didn’t like it. He wrote many nasty letters. We made every effort to explain our policy and the federal air regulations, but he wasn’t hearing it. He even showed up in our executive suite to discuss the matter with me. I let him sit out there. I didn’t want to see him and I didn’t want to listen to him. He bought a ticket on our airplane, and that means we’ll take him where he wants to go. But if he’s going to be rude and offensive, he’s welcome to fly another airline.

The fact is that some customers are just plain wrong, that businesses are better of without them, and that managers siding with unreasonable customers over employees is a very bad idea, that results in worse customer service.

So put your people first. And watch them put the customers first.

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NB: This is a re-run of a previous post while I’m away from the blog for a day.

351 thoughts on “Top 5 reasons why “The customer is Always Right” is wrong”

  1. I’ve got a problem with the hat example – not because I’m a neo-Nazi, but because I’m a strong advocate of free speech. Is wearing a hat, however offensive, “intefering with the duties of a crew member” ? “Causing other passengers and the crew discomfort” is way too vague for my tastes. What if it was a yarmulke instead of a neo-nazi-embellished hat? or a turban? Catering to the least common denominator is always a lose – people need to grow thicker skin, IMHO.

  2. At my company, we do our very best to make people happy, especially since our customers are mostly teachers, and we know that Hayden’s comment is accurate. But we also remember that not everyone is our customer. I like the idea of balancing respect for our workers with respect for our customers.

  3. @ PJ I had the same thought! These things are tricky. I once took a a cell phone away from a student in class – nicely and gently and she freaked out on me. I was puzzled and asked the young camera man, who had it all on tape, what he thought (our lectures were filmed). He suggested that there might have been a smutty comment on the screen. I hadn’t thought of that. It was a moment of insight to me that a lecture room is an essentially social experience to a young student (under 25 or so – I used to teach post-grads.) I never touched a phone again and when they went off and students expected someone to be kicked out, I just commented mildly that it was 2006 and we all knew what a phone was. The relief in the room was palpable. It was a novel idea that they could make a sensible decisions themselves to switch it off or take the call outside.

    @Rebecca, I couldn’t agree more. When I get lousy customer service, I rather suspect I am being treated the way the staff are treated by their managers. There is a spiral effect which students also appreciate quickly. They were fascinated by self-fulfilling prophecies and self-efficacy and quickly grasped that they could make or break a lecturer, particularly an inexperienced lecturer, through their expectations and reactions. It had never occurred to them that had that much power over the atmosphere on the campus (2 x 450 classes).

    I fly a lot and I’ve noticed the atmosphere on a flight begins early. Once confusion begins, it escalates. The first stage of those five group formation stages is important. People depend on the staff for cues and direction and if staff appear confused or disorganized, the passengers become disoriented or anxious. And yes, we should expect some storming. The worst possible response is to try to quell the storming. It signals lack of confidence in the airlines’ arrangements, and exacerbates any unease.

    You have me started and I shouldn’t take over Alex’ blog. I’ve watched behavior on long haul flights for years and it is fascinating.

  4. Re PJ’s quote, I would disagree with that. Yes, free speech is very important, but do you really want people saying and doing what they like, no matter who gets hurt or upset?

    What if there had been descendants of a Holocaust survivor, or relatives of someone murdered by the KKK, on that plane?

    No, I’m with the crew member on this one. And had I been a passenger on that plane, I would have written a letter of thanks to that crew member and another of commendation to their manager when I got home.

    People (customers) don’t have the right to behave rudely or aggressively and expect others (employees) just to put up with it.

    As an accountant, I knew one client who was always rude to his staff and to his suppliers, but treated his customers like royalty. Talk about double standards. I’d have given a month’s salary never to have to work with that man again.


  5. Excellent article, love the sentiment. One thing though, the modern way of looking at customers is internal as well as external also lets think about replacing the word ‘customer’ with ‘stakeholder’. Customers, suppliers, community etc as well as employees are all stakeholders. The stakeholders child with the nazi hat was clearly not concerned with the other stakeholders and lets get real i’m all for free speach but the hat was advertising illegal and banned organisations. Get real PJ

  6. This falls into the three parts of a team theory – if you split the team and customer base into three parts. 1) the champs these are the yes we love your ideas and mean it people the “early adopters” they love your company and everything you do is greate. 2) the undecideds they are not with you and not against you – they are not sure how they feel and need more information. 3) the sh*@ heads – these are always against you and no matter what you do you are wrong. We as leaders and cutomers satisfaction always pay more attention to the sh*@ head (even when they are the smallest faction). By paying attention to the challengin group the undecided go that way because they are getting attention. THey the champs leave your company and go elsewhere for their businesss.

  7. What an excellent article. Well done. I was just writing an article for my site about this very subject – but couldn’t possibly do as good a job as you have done. Kudos!

  8. Number 2 resonates with me. As a customer I have always wondered why people who are abusive and complain about everything as a way of life get the better deals and customer service. Something about it just doesn’t seem fair.

  9. I don’t disagree with your points here but I’m concerned with the message that this sends to employees. In a time of communication bombarding from all sides, it seems to me that the simple axiom “the customer is always right” is still useful no matter how flawed the logic. I think that management needs to determine when the exceptions are to be made.

    Imagine trying to train a customer call center on the catch phrase “some customers are wrong, some are abrasive, and some are bad for business, so be careful which ones you please, because we don’t want you to be unhappy or provide worst customer service”.

    That should be some interesting training!

  10. These reasons are fantastic.

    I’ve worked in customer service for about 6 years now, and in that time one of the things that I have learnt is that most of the time, people are pretty good. If they have a complaint, they will deal with it in a mature and intelligent manner, and if you try to meet them halfway, or explain why they can’t have what they want, and are treated with dignity and respect, they treat people in customer service roles with dignity and respect.

    I believe that all people have the right to be upset when things haven’t gone their way. They have the right to express the way they feel. They do not have the right to demand the ridiculous, and that is sadly the way that service is going in the world. We are spending less and less on first level service, and more and more on complaints handling, so that the people who do all the yelling and abuse get all the service.

    That’s going to make the ordinary, quiet, friendly customer go elsewhere. If they go one place for service and don’t get the service they want, they aren’t going to complain. They’ll just leave.

    The problem is that in our current corporate culture, businesses value the money that customers bring in more than the capital they have in their employees. Employees understand the value of the customer. However, they also know that for every 100 customers, there are one or two that are simply not worth your while. They are dead weight.

  11. While working in retail during college, I got a piece of advice that pertains to this very subject. My boss told me ” The customer is not always right, but the customer is always the customer.” He was able to keep his employees happy and loyal while also keeping his customers happy and loyal. Maybe a few more customer service departments should keep this in mind.

  12. I’ve never approved of pandering to the whims of customers. Customers take my services on my terms or not at all. I run a training school and if a customer makes an unreasonable complaint I kick them straight out the door and refund the money.

    Customers know where they stand with me. I’m not a pushover and can’t be bullied. If they step out of line, I’ll give them a piece of my mind and then they’re out. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than dragging some dumbass loser who is giving one of my trainers a hard time out of the training room and shoving him into the street.

    If more businesses acted liked this, we’d soon put a stop to these professional whiners, who waste so much of our valuable time and money.

  13. Tom Danver please publish the name and location of your training school so those who won’t kiss your a** will know not to give you their business.

  14. A caveat should be posted with this – extreme abusive customers. True customer service is just about non-existent now… they all have their canned lines to try and appease you while telling you to take a long walk off a short pier. *COUGH* KitchenAid *COUGH*… I WAS an avid consumer of their products until I got dead ended with their CSR regarding a 2 year old $400+ mixer that I used about 8x and broke. Ridiculous. We need quality brought back to our products and we’d probably have less reason to put up with seasoned whiners… but when the valid complaints continually get jacked (like most do) I don’t buy into all the hype a company pushes about the customer being important. Put up or shut up. Because in the end of the day, good customer or bad, it’s their cash that supports your products. If you have enough of the good to not put up with the bad, that’s the best spot to be in.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant… here’s another good article you might like:

    Top 10 Awesome Websites That Sell Cool Products You Probably Have Never Visited But Need To.

    Take care!

  15. Having worked in customer service for some time, I feel pretty confident saying “fuck people”.
    Bad customers, which are the only ones that will get blown off, don’t deserve to be made happy. They want something for free and they don’t care how nasty they have to be to get it.
    That is not how I treat my employees now. They strive to make our customers happy, until some pedantic jerk comes through, and we send that one packing.
    Letting a few bad customers slide so you can keep the good ones happy, and your employees cheerful, is by far a better model for success than bending over for every dickhead that you run into.

  16. The customer is always right. Period.

    The customer pays for a service and that service is bound under the terms and conditions of the company providing the service.

    If the company does not protect itself from the litigious claims made by customer, well that is its problem.

    The company is wrong to try and put the ‘customer is always right’ mantra just to create pressures on its employees without protecting them.

    Nice try though.

  17. Working in a specialty, alternative green grocery in boulder, co gives you an idea of how unreasonable, overbearing, cheap, bratty, and ultimately inauthentic the elitist, yoga/buddha health folks can be. They are supposed to be nicer, setting an example with their ‘enlightened’ ways, from the calm happy that exercise and/or yoga gives them. Instead, they just piss on employees when they themselves are wrong; they have an abject inability to apply common sense while simultaneously filling their space with righteous smug, making everyone in their wake wrong because they have to always be right.

    Anyway, working in retail means you have to deal with developmentally disabled people. sometimes you can tell right away and of course you feel good about helping *them*. The other times, you have to wait for them to ask you a question most frequenters of mass market groceries would have the sense and pioneer to figure out for themselves, but then they have to be mean about it when you endeavor to answer with grace.

  18. I agree with everything except the hat example. The hat should have been OK. Yes, it’s obnoxious and annoying but airlines as well as other people should tolerate some degree of obnoxiousness. If your employees have no tolerance at all for even a little bit of rudeness, then what you got there is intolerant jerks. People can be rude for a good reason, like if their stomach hurts, or if the eye hurts, or if they just broke up, etc. Not all rude people are bad people. Good people can have a bad day. Not everyone wearing swastika is a Nazi. Maybe the guy was trying to make a free speech statement? And if we don’t allow swastikas then what else shouldn’t be allow? This opens a whole can of worms. Should we allow Islamic symbols? Should we allow the star of David? Why yes? Why not?

    Even though today companies have the right to block free speech, it is not good, especially if those companies engage in highly public activities or services. As the days go by, government is becoming less and less relevant in day to day life and the censorship provisions in the Constitution do not protect our free speech enough. When every chunk of land is privately owned and when free speech is only guaranteed on government owned land, you have no free speech.

    I detest nazis and KKK. They are the scum of the earth. But nonetheless, I love free speech so much that they should have been allowed to fly. If you want to do something, maybe hang a sign right over their seat that says “ASSHOLE”. That’s your free speech. So if he has offensive symbols you can hang some offensive symbols of your own over his head. That’s fine. But you have to let them fly.

  19. The business-to-customer relationship should be like the host to guest relationship. At a certain point, the host is being too reasonable and the guest too unreasonable. What is lacking most in this is familiarity. In our corporate culture, we are used to hitting the reset button on this relationship every time the customer enters the store. this makes for a very transactional experience. businesses need to do a much better job at customer relationship management.

    From the POV of the corporation, transactional experience is great…everything is standardized and therefore predictable. This process-orientation makes for speed and sales. It’s very industrial revolution, business one-point-oh. From the POV of the customer, it’s very impersonal, so there’s never any loyalty built. This makes for churn or customers trading standardized, transactional experiences by way of trying-out other brands.

    Imagine if corporations actually remembered it’s customers (beyond a number) but actual preferences…how much attention the customer needs- a lot or none at all, potential purchases, special orders, etc. Sometimes all it takes is to remember a person’s name and tell them it’s good to see them to keep them coming back.

    Nowadays, retail is becoming even more standard and impersonal. Sure, they have these membership cards which are nothing more than a way to track cash transactions and enforce that you carry their advertising everywhere you go. Automated checkout counters in groceries say ‘thank you *valued customer* for shopping at *name_of_grocery*” Customer service!

  20. The range of opinions expressed here are similar to those expressed by university lecturers. Lecturers would like to be liked and when something goes wrong, they get very upset with students who become distressed. And then, very often, they ‘deny service’ – arbitrarily and usually un-contractually. Do you remember any of that? Do you remember how you came to hate those lecturers?

    I was at Euston Station in London last night. All services were delayed/canceled and I mean ALL out of a major commuting station. Two people were in a little kiosk trying to answer the questions of hundreds if not thousands of commuters. I managed to engage eye contact and I complimented them on the way they were trying to engage and then suggested they get the management on the line for us so we could request them to provide more resources. Guess what – the management were un-contactable. THERE WAS NO WAY FOR PEOPLE ON THE FRONT LINE TO TALK TO THE MANAGEMENT. This is very common. Watch what happens next time you see a service failure. The front line person will have little backup. They are trying to do a good job but don’t have the resources to do it.

    In the end every passenger makes an individual decision. What will I do about the kids who haven’t been collected from school? etc. etc. This is what the ‘system’ wants – for us to absorb the costs of its failures. Outwardly passengers become docile, which is what the system wants. They stop engaging because they believe it is futile AND THAT NOTHING BETTER CAN HAPPEN. Learned helplessness sets in and they become angry. Like many of the people who are commenting here. And they hand on that anger to their customers in their next service encounter.

    So what can we do here? We can thank Kamila and Mohammed who were on duty at Euston Station last night handling hundreds if not thousands of people who were very worried. I doubt they will read this. They are exhausted right now. So am I. But I took the day off to recover. So double thank you.

    I think we can build up knowledge on how to handle people who are distressed. While Kamila was checking out options to reroute, Mohammed provided practical advice in a way that was respectful and useful. He simply recounted his experience of the last stoppage and extrapolated heuristics which the passengers could apply. That allowed us to make decisions in an orderly way. As a result I actually decided not to try to get on first train out because I didn’t have kids to pick up and realistically I could wait provided there was no risk of subsequent trains being canceled.

    After a similar experience just two weeks ago, I have resolved to build a gratitude mashup – where we can log on to say “Kamila and Mohammed were fantastic at Euston Station last night”. PS a guard on platform 16 was also pretty good.

    Anyone want to help?

  21. You know what, sometimes we don’t have a choice but to deal with you. Sometimes the market has no competition, perhaps your company got some of the govt pie and we can’t do anything about it. Perhaps you’re the only one who can service us. Perhaps you made a promise. I find too often you like to pretend the customer is irrational, petulant and stupid, but we’ve been putting with your crap for far too long.

    You’ve gotten free rides far too long.

  22. Jeff said:
    If you tell your employees to adhere to one set of policies, then train your
    managers to make exceptions, you’re entirely reinforcing the model that is described in this article. Employees resent being represented to the customers as wrong for adhering to the policies, and quit attempting to enforce those policies. . . your managers are tied up all of the time listening to complaints because your employees don’t have the ability to enforce the company’s policies nor make decisions that are in the company’s best interests. . . and you reinforce aggressive customer behavior because if they complain loud and long enough, someone will give them what they want to shut them up.

    So your opinion is to NEVER make exceptions. I’m sorry, but that’s unreasonable. The problem is not that exceptions are made, it’s that they’re made arbitrarily or without consideration for precedent.

    Exceptions will always need to be made. There’s no perfect policy. Check out the Constitution and it’s amendment process (i.e., a formal exception system).

    I’m not suggesting that managers make a lot of exceptions, I’m just saying that exceptions should be meted out by a few rather than many. The more people you have being lenient with the rules, the more you open yourself up to unnecessary waste, expense, litigation, etc.

    My point is simply that you shouldn’t lose sight of the principle or meaning behind the motto just because it doesn’t work perfectly in 100% of cases. The golden rule is logically flawed, but it will always be a good rule of thumb at heart. That’s why it endures centuries.

  23. The biggest thing that people get wrong is “The Customer is Always Right.” That comment was never supposed to be taken literally, but was meant as an attitude you should have with the customer. You TREAT them as if they are right, even when wrong, because that’s how you maintain control over the call or sale. Let me address your points from that angle:

    1: It makes employees unhappy
    Non-supportive management makes the employees unhappy. An example from my past: we had a very abusive customer who didn’t care for women or black people. His order got screwed up (he got the wrong style headboard on a bedroom set), and so he called the delivery guys “useless as a bunch of niggers” and threw them out of his house. Then he decided to threaten to kill the store manager, called the police to tell them the manager was a thief, called the district manager a “mattress-backed whore” in her answering machine, and was so horrible to the head of our customer service department to the point she broke down crying. The customer demanded to speak to the company president. The president said, after seeing his head of customer support crying, “I am not speaking to anyone who treats people that way.” The vice president called the guy back, and said, “While a mistake was made, that was no excuse for your abusive behavior. We’ll fix the problem if you call everyone you spoke to back, and apologize. Otherwise, I have been authorized by the company president to have a cease and desist order drawn against you in a court of law. Be a man, and do the honorable thing.” We fixed this guy’s problem AND got his apology. An argument could be made that the company could have told him to go to hell, or kowtowed to him, but they didn’t do either. So while the customer was abusive, the employees knew management had their back, even though a mistake had been made in the delivery.

    2: It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage
    No more than non-abrasive ones. Never tell any customer what you can’t do, tell them what you CAN do. Don’t say, “I can’t give you a new car,” but “I am sorry you are having issues with your car, why don’t you bring it down, and we’ll look at it for free. We certainly don’t want to leave you with a poorly-running car.”

    3: Some customers are bad for business
    This is true. But you shouldn’t make that assessment right away. In this case, terminating the Airline customer was probably a good idea in the example you gave.

    4: It results in worse customer service
    Only if the employees don’t get support.from management. There are really no “problem customers” just “problem situations.” I used to run a book store that had a “no returns, exchanges for same book only” policy. I had my cashiers enforce this rule, but if anyone demanded to speak to the manager, they could come to me. Could I “bend” this rule? Of course. I always explained to the cashiers that this made their life simpler, and it wasn’t because they were wrong or looked stupid, but they shouldn’t have to deal with that burden. I wasn’t contradicting them, I was simply the next up the chain, and they did their job just fine. If a customer bitched that “well, that ditz on the register said I couldn’t get a different book,” I replied, “that’s what I tell them to say. She did her job well. And I would like it if you did not refer to any of my employees in a derogatory manner.”

    5: Some customers are just plain wrong
    Oh, absolutely. But don’t treat them like that or you’ll get nowhere. Sometimes, the best thing is to let them scream for 3-5 minutes. After that, they are out of breath an easier to get them to do what you want.

    Customer service is an art. There are not many black-and-white policies to dealing with anyone in the human race; ask a doctor. But I wanted to claifiy that “The customer is always right” is a path, not a goal.

  24. I demand that you remove “Top” from the title of your article since the importance of each of your points is completely arbitrary, and cannot ranked as the absolute top 5. As a customer of your site, I am always right.

  25. Free speech does not give you the right to broadcast that speech to a captive audience in a private setting. The hat guy’s position is indefensible. It’s a private setting and the attendant has the agency to determine what speech can be broadcast in that setting. That is, you have no more right to wear a piece of clothing with a visible message on an airplane than you have to wear it in my home.

    On a public street, on a public bus or ferry, in a park or in a government building? Yes, he has the right to wear that hat. But in a private vehicle, a privately-owned building (inlcuding one with public access) or on private lands? No, he does not have that right.

    The right to free speech only protects you from being interfered with by the government; it does not give you the right to require non-interference from other citizens in private settings.

  26. @Grig

    Agreed Grig – the trick is getting everyone to rise above the problem situation. And oft times that leads to greater understanding all round and greater loyalty all round which leads in turn to a more engaged approach when the next problem arises.

    And therein lies happiness! Feeling that we can sort problems out together, even bad ones.

    The internet has been so quiet that I assumed the Easter holidays have effectively begun. Then the CHO burst into life!!

  27. PJ, the hat issue is tricky, but consider: does support of free speech extend to the point of allowing one customer to shout the n-word at another customer? Wearing clothing with racist sayings or insignia might be thought of in the same way.

  28. I don’t see what this excellent article has anything to do with nazis, holocaust or free speech. I guess anyone wants to support their own fervent agenda no matter what the issue may be. Anyway, I have to make comment about the whole issue of people “saying what they want”.

    Adults do business together. Adults understand that their approach with another person will bring about a reaction that is deserving. Even the most immature and irrational adult understands that they will not always get exactly what they want.

    The point of the discussion for a customer in a conversation with a supplier is to get what they are asking for. The point of the discussion for the supplier is to provide what the customer wants, while satisfying their first needs which are spoken or written, and the periphery needs that come from the unspoken requests of body language and chit-chat. The abrasive person will get “just” what they want and loses an opportunity to give and take with full understanding of the possible results of the meeting.

    Nearly every level of customer service demands an agreement between two people. The two people are negotiating a deal. There are rules of the game that will promote a strong conclusion for both parties. Those implicit rules demand respectful discussion and an open ear. Often there are people who walk into a situation of supply, carrying a whole lot of demand. It is tiresome to deal with anyone who seeks assistance and advice, but will not entertain any validity or quality with the expertise that is being offered. Yes the supplier wants to satisfy and may readily do any number of things to make the deal in a satisfactory way — leaving a contented buyer in a good relationship headspace.

    However, I have sometimes been rebuked in business when I have stated in private conference with associates that the customer doesn’t “fit” or that there is entirely too much work and cost to bear when attempting to do business. Oddly, it is the “greasy wheel who gets the grease” who demands the most time and effort and pays the least. In a real business model, it is simply not realistic to devote that kind of energy to someone who cannot be satisfied at any level. Wait — there is a level that will satisfy and that is total subjugation to their will. I have to sigh. What is the point of that? In the long run the supplier loses time and money and mindshare of the customers who actually support the business as it is designed to conduct business. Go into a car showroom to buy a heavy machinery vehicle? The SUV will not satisfy that request — so why not move on to the tractor supplier if that is what you are really looking for.

    I agree that the customer who wants to waste a company’s resources should be encouraged to go elsewhere. While the door is swinging, invite the new client in and give then what they are asking for, inside a relationship of supply and demand with reasonable expectations and good business practice. And they will return with satisfaction, and requests and suggestions that will truly build the business for the benefit of those who demand, and those who supply.

  29. to tom danver – i feel the same way you do. i run a retail shop, and don’t put up with the kind of crap that people put out. just because i’m behind a counter does not mean you get to treat me like a lesser human being.
    more power to those of us willing to stand up for ourselves.

  30. Oh great! Yet another “excuse” for big business to provide terrible customer service. Rather than pay their customer service reps a living wage, they’re going to be on “their side”. And since almost all the corps provide terrible customer service, there really isn’t anywhere else for customers to take their business.

    Just another reason to despise corporate America and do business with tiny local operators whenever possible.

    Yet the author of this piece swallows this entire line of bull and breathlessly touts the propaganda. This is why this country is going down the tubes – far too many gullible people who gladly march in lockstep and swallow everything the propagandists tell them. Pathetic.

  31. i am that nugget that would not sit down when the cashier requested me to take my shirt off

  32. Thank you for this! My sister works at a retail franchise which uses the phrase “The customer is always right” religiously. One day an old lady came in and was annoyed with another woman’s autistic son. She got into the boy’s face and mimicked a noise the boy made. My sister couldn’t say anything to her because if the woman complained to her manager, she would have been fired. If I were in that position they would have booted me out the door so fast, but you can bet I would have taken that old bag with me.

  33. The Customer is always right


    Some people don’t get to be your customer.

    You get to decide who is and who isn’t your customer.

  34. To expect an airline to change is quite insane. But they ought to listen to the lady who complains and change everything she complained about since she represents 99.9% of all customers.

    There are customers who play games for whatever reason. But listening to suggestions is essential for good business.

  35. In the examples you give where the customer is not “right”, you seem to be citing extreme cases: Abrasive customers, incessantly demanding customers, intolerably rude customers. If the exceptions are to be made in such extreme cases, that suggests to me that the maxim itself is valid, just amended to “The customer is always right, with some exceptions in extreme cases.” What is the alternative maxim? “The customer is always wrong?” “The customer is sometimes right?”

    The huge fallacy I see in your argument is that it makes the assumption that “the customer is always right” implies taking the customer’s side over the employee. It means no such thing. It means giving the customer an elevated position relative to THE COMPANY, not the employee. Sadly, the growing trend is for companies to use their customer service departments to SHIELD upper management from their customers. Your argument that siding with the employee requires siding against the customer allows a company’s treatment of customers with callous indifference to be painted as a virtue. It is this callous indifference, this practice of using employees not as a resource to help the customer but as a line of defense against the customer, that results in employees so often being subjected to frustrated and irate customers.

    It’s ironic that you give multiple examples from airlines. Is there anyone who hasn’t heard or experienced at least one horror story about treatment of customers by an airline? Now that they can justify mistreatment of customers with the additional excuse of “national security,” the airlines probably have a worse reputation than the phone company! The reason that airlines and the phone companies are such a nightmare to deal with is because as oligopolies they have all the power over the customer, they know it, their employees know it, and they treat their customers accordingly. Conversely, it is in the industries with the highest levels of competition that the credo that the customer is always right is most often adhered to, which suggests that the philosophy does indeed make good business sense, at least for companies that actually feel that they NEED their customers.

    The reason that the customer should always be right is because the customer is usually the one with the least power. It is a wonderfully egalitarian principle, like Innocent until proven guilty, that we shouldn’t take for granted. I’ve traveled extensively, and I can tell you there are many places in the world where people are in awe of the American model of customer service. “What? If you don’t like somthing you can just take it back to the store, and they won’t argue with you about it? Seriously?”

    I just wish I could be treated with the same level of courtesy and respect I receive when dealing with a well-run business when I’m dealing with noncommercial institutions: the IRS, the Post Office, public hospitals, the DMV…

    Deciding that the customer is always right does not mean favoring the customer over the employee. It means favoring the powerless over the powerful. It’s a beautiful concept that this world needs more of, not less.

  36. I work in the HR function and if there is any part of the business that is service-challenged, it is us.

    On Tuesday I heard Adam Greenfield, author of Everywhere and new Head of Design at Nokia talk on the five principles of design. I was testing HR systems against these 5 principles as he spoke and I’ve rewritten them clumsily but positively on my blog. It would be interesting to hear from HR people who have designed systems and people who bear the brunt of our systems, what they think.

  37. I work at tim hortons and some old jerk keep coming through the drive through telling off my employees, giving them the finger, and throwing stuff in our window. The littlest thing will set him off, like if he’s not the first car in the drive through. so one day while he was cursing at one of the girls i work with, i through the coffee right in his car and made a mess and told him off :)
    He was holding up the drive through anyway, so why keep him as a customer if he bothers other customers and absuses employees?
    Was what i did the right thing? no, but what the heck, i’m canadian :)

  38. I agree with this wholeheartedly…a friend of mine was just fired bc a customer called her a “piece of shit” and she retaliated, though wrongly and called his “mother a piece of shit” Because there was no management on hand to diffuse the situation before it got out of control, I feel like corporate should have taken a second look at the situation, through our eyes….

    and most times the customer is just plain wrong. period.

  39. Your whole argument leads to bad customer service.

    First off the customer is paying you, not the other way around. As such the customer is allowed to expect that they will be served to the best of the ability of the company. If they don’t see such then they have a right to complain that this service was not to the standard they expect and they may even need to go as far as to demand their money back.

    Second off, your last point is a civil suit waiting to happen. You have no right to suppress my freedom of speech especially if such freedom is being expressed in something as quiet as a hat. Do you think they ask for all Che Guevara shirts to be removed … or what about items that say Hillary 08 … or how about Pro-Life apparel. All three of those items express points of view that I find offensive do I whine like a two year old and then try to claim a law is on my side, no because it’s their right to voice their opinion and since its not infringing on my rights I have no grounds for complaint. Now let’s take it further what if the hat had a common swastika used by the Hindu and nothing else. By this girl’s logic because it was used by a group of zealots in Germany that means she has the right not only to suppress his freedom of speech but freedom of religion.

    The point of all this is as a customer service rep you are in the position of rendering services. You have the right to not be verbally abused or physically abused by the customer but beyond that your rights end. The customer is paying you for service not the other way around.


  40. This entire post is wrong, soooo wrong the customer needs to be always right the whole idea that the abusive customer gets what they want is a complete falicy, even in companies where the customer is king. More often than not the abusive customer just gets a “well I am sorry sir but we cant help you with that”. I am not an abusive customer, but I dont like getting jerked around either, I only ever get impatient and irritated when I am put on hold for more than 15 minutes, or deal with sub par customer service staff (read transfered around 5 times with no answers, or cant speak either of my languages). This kind of attitude will inevitably lead to “well you dont like it sir you can go to another company, but they are are going to treat you in the same Sh!#$y way we do , so whatareyagonnado”. Any company that doesn’t have to worry about keeping it’s customers happy…doesn’t, and thats what this attitude will lead to no doubt abouyt it.

  41. One of the keys to good customer service is to simply be clever and postive. Having a good sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either.

    My wife was two weeks into a new position when she received a phone call from a member of her association. The member proceeded to air all of her grievances about the way things had been done with the company.

    After letting her vent for a few minutes, the member finally took a breath and said “You must think I’m the biggest bitch in the world.”

    Her reply – “Oh, no – I usually wait until the third phone call to make that judgement.”

    Customer for life from that moment on.

    Granted, if the customer truly is a moron, They’re better off with the competition. But most customers simply want to be heard and respected, just like us as employees. 90% of the time it can be that simple.

  42. It’s crazy to think the customer is always right. Some deserve to be ignored completely.

    For example:
    In some industries thieves/competitors actually buy your products using stolen credit cards accounts and request refunds repeatedly. Identifying a customer and competitor is serious business.

  43. The customer can only be right if they are, well, right. The problem is that sometimes you get customers that aren’t right. Rob, do you think that trying to return something you bought one year ago, had no receipt, and bought from a different company entirely is “right”? I don’t. And yet, you get this kind of behavior every day.

    Yes, these may be “extreme cases”, as you called them earlier, but these are exactly the type of people who scream “the customer is always right” the loudest. By subscribing to that policy, the company leaves itself open to the worst forms of abuse.

    Companies must be able to protect themselves against fraud and abuse. The “CIAR” policy is antithetical to this. Anyone can come in claiming anything, declaring that they are right, and get whatever they want.

    As for saying that the customer has no power in the transaction, that is patently absurd. The customer has all the power – they can choose to leave at any time. The poor employee does not have that power, nor do they have the power to fight back if the customer becomes abusive. The employee’s livelihood is put up against the whims of someone who might or might not do business with that company.

    I worked retail for 14 years. I worked as a waitress for over 3 years. And let me tell you, while the vast majority of people I dealt with were just fine, friendly and reasonable, there were some who did not deserve the opportunity to be served.

    The implication of the article is not saying that because the customer isn’t always right, they must always be wrong. It’s saying that by taking the stance that the employee will lose every time against a customer, you are endangering the commodity that makes your company successful. You will have a workforce that takes no pride in their work, since their management has no faith in their judgment or abilities.

  44. All well and good. But have you ever dealt with any RyanAir personnel? Being treated so badly when you complain that other customer’s actually have to stick up for you and ask the stewardess to stop being so rude is a little excessive. I’ve seen this happen twice this year alone! And I’ve only flown with them once in 2008.

  45. Anyone disagreeing with the is more than likely one of the loud assholes the article refers to. You’ve probably never worked in customer service, and of course you don’t understand that it makes you look like a joke when you’re doing what you’ve been trained to do and someone can just request a supervisor to go over your head and get what they want. I’ll be honest, I work in a department that handles whether or not someone gets large amounts of credit to their account and it’s one that receives a lot of tickets from CSRs who were only trying to get the customer off the line when they put in these tickets. I worked the phones. I don’t spare my feelings to those who don’t actually deserve it. If you have a real problem, give us a call, we’ll deal with it happily. I love fixing people’s problems. If you ran up your bill because you’re stupid and you thought you could just get someone to write it off, run it past me then as well. I take a lot of pleasure in shooting down ridiculous claims. They just recently put me in this position and I’ve got to say I’m a lot happier with the job.

  46. If you read a companies customer policy everything will be fine. You can always sway the customer toward the interest of the company. Hello they are they are consuming a product or using a service. They want it, they need it, they love it.

  47. Wow. Continental Airlines. They’ve gone bankrupt how many times? Perhaps if they treated their passengers as something as other than walking receivables, they might actually have a shot to be profitable consistently.

    Why do you think Emirates and Singapore Airlines are considered best of breed?

  48. Working at a Blockbuster Video 10 years ago, I remember an elderly customer verbally abusing a soft spoekn employee over a late charge dispute. The dude just worked 14 hours straight (very loyal), and she was makig an obvious gesture towards his race, referring to him as “lazy”, and “you people”. The guy finally erupted and said ” leave me alone bitch”. Next day he was FIRED. A hard working loyal employye:

    a- wasn’t given a chance to explain himself
    b -his hard work and loyalty was not taken into consideration.

    and we were told.. “the customers are always right”

  49. I would like to point out that part of the problem comes in the cultural habit of calling an abusive person a “lady” or a “gentleman.”

    Let’s make something very clear, many people you encounter don’t fit into these categories. It doesn’t matter how they dress, how much money they have, whether they even know all of the right manners all of the time. Being a lady or a gentleman is about behaving well in public, trying to be dignified in your approach to things, and not making a scene in cases like this.

    A few months ago, I had a woman try to ram right through me because she thought that I was holding the door for her. That was ironic in light of the fact that I hadn’t moved out of the way, indicating to her that I was going to do that. She then got indignant when I proceeded to walk through the door, and she had to scrunch in between me, and someone else trying to leave.

    People who act like this in public deserve to be called what they are: assholes.

  50. well, it should probably be “the customer is usually right” And, you know what? The person at the desk isn’t always right either. Rude goes both ways and I’ve had my share of R-U-D-E flight attendants and desk clerks in my travels, one reason I don’t go US Air anymore. One thing is certain: rude/abrasive is never the right approach.

    By they way, I don’t agree with wearing a KKK hat, but, making someone take off their hat is wrong. To assert that it is interfering with your duties seems a bit far fetched. Did it prohibit mobility of the attendant? no. Did it prohibit the passing out of drinks or snacks? no. Did it inhibit any safety measures? no. Done. A good lawyer would have probably laid the smackdown on that.

  51. It’s no wonder that so many airlines go bankrupt if this represents typical airline CEO thinking. I wish I had so many customers that I could afford to drop any that dared to speak up.

    These CEOs and the author seem to misunderstand Selfridge’s slogan. He did not mean that every customer demand should be met. He meant that the customer should be treated with dignity and respect and should continue to be treated that way until a mutually agreeable solution is found. He was speaking to employee disposition and attitude, not ultimate resolution of the issue.

    And Satyrblade, you are a fool. Reread your Constitutional theory and pay particular attention to the parts about protecting the rights of the few against the tyranny of the many.

  52. Having worked in customer service as well as having been a disgruntled customer myself, I agree with the above article. It is sad however, that some companies do not reward rational customers with grievances, just loudmouths. I’ve seen cruise passengers get half off their next cruise because their cabin door was blocked by luggage upon boarding the ship and their cabin “smelled like fresh paint”. I’ve seen hotel customers get their room free because it “smelled funny”. Same customer then went to the hotels restaurant for dinner and complained that they didn’t like it – got it free. They continued to do this for 2 days in a row! A free dinner at a restaurant (or at least 50% off or a free dessert).

    I wrote a complaint letter to Travelocity and put it online as an example of how to write an effective complaint letter. In this article, I stressed the importance of remaining calm, documenting everything, being reasonable, showing the company why they should keep your business, not making rude comments about the staff (unless they were part of the problem). Funny thing is, Travelocity never responded. United Airlines did give me the money that I lost back however (in the form of a voucher with an expiry date).

    Lesson learned – being unreasonable often gets the best results!

  53. I’ve been working retail for the last 6 years, and I can tell you that the customer is not always right and it is quite annoying to hear that touted by certain corporations. My personal belief is that I am providing you with assistance and service in my place of employment and working hard to please you in whatever way I can. If you have to get nasty and rude, then you don’t deserve to be allowed to shop at my retail business, simple as that. There is no case in the world that requires people to be mean, disrespectful, or just plain rude to another human being. I’ve either been yelled at or heard customers yelling at people over the smallest issues. For instance, I work at a pharmacy, and people complain they have to show their driver’s license for certain drugs. It is a state and federal law, yet people still feel the need that if they scream and hoot and holler, than they will be able to change the law. Some customers just deserve to be smacked across the face and sent on their way out the door.

  54. This attitude, coupled with ever declining customer service, is what is driving customers to base their decisions solely on price alone. Since I already expect terrible customer service, why bother expecting anything more than the cheapest price. It used to be that customer service was something a company was proud of. It was a monaker they would use to attract new clientel, and works better than any amount of money spent on advertising. Unfortunatly some companies are immune due to limited competition. Everyone knows the airlines have terrible customer service, and have come to expect nothing less, so this article and the airline anecdotes do not surprise me. Companies would do well to remember that your customers are your reason for being there. Without them, you dont have any employees, you don’t have a company, you dont have a job. Then someone else can worry about wheather the Customer is Always right…..

  55. Perhaps this has been said before, there so many comments I just skimmed them, but while I agree there are times the customer is wrong, there are just as many times the business is wrong. Sometimes a policy or fee or something a business does is just unfair to the customer, and the customer has a right to expect fair treatment, too. I don’t condone abuse to anyone, whether they are the employee or the customer, and both parties should be treated fairly.

  56. Just a little story of my own experience and why I totally agree with this article:
    I work for a large chainstore in the wine department. A couple of years ago a customer came in, put several boxes of wine in to his trolley and demanded that we deliver it. It isn’t the company’s policy to deliver, we don’t even have a delivery van. I politely explained this to the customer and offered to help him to the car after he’d purchased his items. He then proceeded to hurl verbal abuse at me and threaten physical assault. He start throwing stuff out of his trolley and on to the floor, breaking several items and scaring the other customers and employees. I tried to stay calm and and went to phone my boss down, to reaffirm the company policy and to lend me support. My boss arrive and proceeded to completely side with the customer! He was practically grovelling and even promised that he would deliver the goods in his very own car! I had never felt so demoralized in my whole life! My didnity wasn’t worth the

  57. i hate to burst the ‘free speech bubble’ but continental, or any other business for that matter, can restrict your speech all they want. By entering ones place of business, in this case the plane, you are consenting to their rules. That means they can require shirts and shoes, they can prohibit your carrying of a firearm (another ‘protected right’), kick you out for being offensive, either in speech, attire, or stench. The constitution only protects your rights when the gov’t is involved. The gov’t isnt allowed to restrict speech, or prohibit your right to bear arms. A private company, person, etc, is able to remove these ‘rights’ from you at their leisure.

    It is such a lack of understanding of the constitution, bill or rights, and government, that is killing the US right now. Wise up

  58. @Strychski

    at least you got the constitiutional issues right.

    But you missed the boat on the rest.
    “He meant that the customer should be treated with dignity and respect ” This is only applicable when the customer also treat the employee with said dignity and respect. In most all of the situations mentioned, that was not the case. The customer was an asshat from the word go. Such people deserve no respect. They are never right. In the very few other situations, the customer is unreasonable, and impossible to please. These people should not be bothered with either. Its a classic 80/20 scenario, but it more like 99/1. 99% of the problems and complaints come from 1% of the customers. Do you really need those customers.

    This article is dead on. Get rid of your bad customers. You will be much happier and you will have so much time to work for new ones.

  59. A customer is just an employer by another name. Just as there are some things that are off limits for an employer to request from an employee, there are logically some things a customer can request that are inappropriate.

    If my boss asks me to wash his car, I would tell him to go to hell, that isn’t what I was hired for. Likewise, I can put up with any request for a customer that wants my professional services but not someone who wants to expose me to their own personal problems, frantic desires and/or negativity – they need a psychiatrist or a prostitute for that.

    The idea that because you’re spending money you have a license to act any way you want is one of the good reasons more traditional cultures hate American tourists.

  60. Constitutionalist –

    You’re quite right. I hope no one is arguing any different. The Constitution doesn’t prohibit businesses acting like jerks. (Well, unless the business is giving you a hard time simply because you’re a member of a protected class, ie race, gender, orientation, ethnicity, religion. Even private businesses are not allowed to discriminate on those grounds. Racist idiots are not a protected class, so the airline was perfectly all right, legally, to be assholes to these particular customers.) I think the whole point of many of these posts is that there are times when a business should act (sort of, with respect and dignity) like a jerk. There are times when existing customers need to be fired and new customers need to be refused.

    The point, though, is that businesses should deploy the hard line rather carefully and reluctantly. Treat your customers like crap and they tend to stop being customers. Treat your customers like crap and they tend to complain.

    So, yeah, sure, a flight crew can make up a lie to tell a passenger along the lines of “What you’re wearing somehow makes it harder for us to do our jobs so we’re going to threaten to throw you off the plane and maybe have you arrested and there’s not a thing you can do about it but shut up and take it.” No one is saying they can’t legally get away with that.

    Some of us, though, find the judgement displayed in that case rather faulty.

  61. I completely agree. Having worked at a customer service desk at a large nationwide retailer, I can say that in my opinion the majority of customers are wrong.

    To be honest, with the position I was in, I could be as mean and aggressive towards the customers as they were to us when they came in. It’s very hard to get fired from a customer service job if you are competent, and no matter how many customers you make angry, they don’t want to lose your competency.

    People are wired to buy products. You can make them as angry as possible, but they will always return to buy. It’s human nature. Especially at large retail stores, where people really have no choice but to come back. Things are so cheap and convenient that no matter how they are treated they are inclined to come back.

    Customer service is dead.

  62. Hey nazi defenders:

    I’m a strong free speech and personal liberties advocate. But speech that encourages people to drag my kids behind a truck by a rope isn’t free speech, okay? It’s a very real threat, and it’s distinct from expressing an opinion. The fact that all speech isn’t free (e.g. fraud) isn’t a hard concept, but people have trouble with the fact that there are grey zones with these issues. I don’t think the nazi platform of “kill all the mud people” is much of a grey zone, though. It isn’t free speech if it takes away my freedoms. Get it out of my face, it’s a direct threat.

    A good company doesn’t provide a service where people feel threatened.

  63. Brian, Customer Service is NOT DEAD. I am an internet tech support for the one of the largest locally owned telephone companies in the US. We have some very strict policies. The Customer comes first, the customer makes this happen, and we are REAL PEOPLE, offering REAL SERVICE, and that it is REAL SIMPLE. I have been here for a little over 5 years and basically we have a theory. Treat the customer like you want to be treated, but as soon as that customer starts making verbal threats and being abusive with there language, ask them to calm down or to please watch there language, if they continue we hang up on them. The customer is not always right, just like the employee isn’t always right. We strive to deliver the best Customer Service around. We always put the needs of the customer at the up most priority but are not afraid to let them know when they have crossed that line. In our line of business unlike other Telecommunication providers, we have a real person to answer the phone when you call, not an automated voice message system. People stay with us because we do offer great customer service. I have one customer who has told me many times that if it wasn’t for my follow ups, and great customer service he would have left because of the problems that he has had with his internet service. I 100 percent agree with this article and am sure that the President of my company who STRIVES for us to have great customer service would totally agree with this article.

  64. Melmoth –

    I don’t think anyone here is defending nazis.

    I don’t even think we’re defending racist idiots.

    We’re just wondering why anyone would take seriously someone whose idea of proud, protected political speech is the kind of hat they put on their kid. Those people are walking jokes. For a flight attendant to take them seriously enough to treat them badly and dishonestly and for the management to then support that treatment seems like bad judgement.

    I grew up around those folks and I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty shabby treatment. My experience is that people need to learn to tell the difference between real threats and ignorant, offensive, harmless hicks.

    99.99999999% of the people that spew such garbage fall into the latter category. At minimum, they pose no conceivable threat to anyone on a plane or to the ability of the flight crew to function.

    It’s threatening to the bottom line of an airline, though, when employees dishonestly and egregiously misuse their authority.

    Of course, if you fly much these days, I guess you get used to that. Maybe the whole matter is moot.

  65. You guys arguing against the nazi hat don’t understand the constitution or any of the other laws surrounding the issue. They can refuse him service for wearing the hat, but since they already served him and are contractually bound to deliver him to his destination it’s discrimination if they ask him to take his hat off during the flight. A business has the right to remove someone from their property, but you can’t exactly kick someone out of an airplane flying at 40,000 feet can you? Everybody is going to be offended by something. The guy wasn’t hurting anyone wearing his hat or being rude or causing a scene. The flight attendant was the one who made an issue out of it.

    You can keep asking all the what if questions you want but it doesn’t change anything. What if I’m offended by people who wear turbans or any other article of clothing with a message I don’t like? Does this mean I get to kick them off the airplane too?

    Getting angry and indignant at the guy probably made him happy he managed to ruffle someone’s feathers. Grow a ticker skin.

  66. I was in banking (operations and management) for a very long time, and although “rules are rules” prevailed 99% of the time, there were times for exceptions (within the law) regarding customer desires or needs. Whenever I made an exception for a customer after being told they could not do something by a staffer, I *always* made sure to tell the customer, right in front of the staffer, that the staffer was right to follow the rules and that I was making a very rare exception for him/her.

  67. Since Southwest Airlines is mentioned in this article, it reminded me that one of my favorite TV shows is “Airline” which is about Southwest Airlines’ daily interactions with customers from all over the US and world. It’s really interesting how many minority customers pull the “race card” stuff out when they are being told something they don’t like by Southwest employees. Sad…but, true.

  68. The Customer is Always Right is a phrase meant for front-line, customer-facing employees. In most cases if you treat a customer with great service, even when they are a jackass, they will become a loyal, very profitable, customer for life.

    Leave the “Customer is Wrong” decision to the higher up escalations. The higher a stupid complaint is escalated, the more likely if will be ignored or rejected outright and the customer told where they can stick it.

    If you let the average front-line customer service employee make the call on whether a customer is right, the $9/hr flunkee will usually decided the customer is wrong because they would have to work a little more.

    They’ll piss off customers. Quit. Then write a blog about it.

    Good strategy….why don’t you title your next book — customer service secrets of the Airline Industry. I’m sure you’ll sell a couple copies just for laughs.

    You’re an idiot.

  69. I agree with you… but there are LOTS of exceptions, specially if your business has a small amount of customers …. when this happens, EVERY SINGLE customer is important … so if you want to survive, you may want to keep them happy

  70. After carefully reading all posts I have to say that I’m glad that there as many deep thoughts on the subject. As for the nazi hat I’m looking forward for the time
    nobody will remember what it ever stood for, until then we have to find a way.
    Today is a variety of cultures of behaviour and the problem is with interpretation.
    Any decision we make will be censored by our conscience and there goes a learning theory with it.
    Asking somebody to take off a nazi hat must be an option available – why not make an ad hoc voting by the whole group – as acting from a position of authority can take away the tension.
    For the staff it can be helpful if they can deal with the situation in a playful way
    and give options “take off the hat or take next plane”, and take contact before deciding on the issue to know if the hat implies a political statement or is purely an item.
    Finally I believe that if there was no bitterly poor and no filthy rich the problem would be much smaller. To have no skills and no decent income is double punishment and normally would go under pet-protection.
    We know by the numbers that those responsible for imposing rules established by majorities are most affected by the pressure so they should be conveyed the lead in procedures.
    I think sanctions on deviant behaviour must be justified rationally and be proportional, leaving some space to the creativity of the involved.
    Some people relish violence because it helps them cope with the subjective injustice they endure. That’s where free speech is the central issue.
    Some people relish violence because they link it with struggle for freedom.
    Beat the invader, remove the unjust dictator.
    The supreme art though as Suzi says is to win without fighting.

  71. You certainly have a heated discussion here. It seems to me that we can draw a few conclusions from all this:
    1. Communication issues are central to human experience.
    2. People remember and stay emotional about their bad experiences on either side of transactions.
    3. The old ways are best: smile, apologize, grovel, and spit in their soup on the way out of the kitchen.

  72. Interesting article, and while I agree that while the customer isn’t always right – the customer always needs to be treated right!

    I am just as happy to see unsatisfiable customers go, my motto in business (as a customer and a business owner) is to ‘make it right’.

    I’ve had many bad situations as a customer, but any company that will take the time to simply listen, then make an effort to keep my business, certainly will.

    Successful companies are the ones that make it right! Have you ever noticed at Starbucks when they get your order wrong? What do they do – they either make it right that minute, or offer you a free beverage the next time. It’s a simple thing, but then, so is their company mission – which has nothing to do with coffee by the way. It’s all about creating a sense of community. Notice how they know your drink after a while?

    I’m tired of companies out there that have little to no customer service that couldn’t care less about the value of my dollar, in so far as to be rude and insulting to me when I am simply asking them to honour their commitments (provided by them, in their words, and in contracts).

    How easy it is to simply say, ‘I’m so sorry about the misunderstanding (thereby not laying or necessarily accepting blame if not required). Here’s a “coffee on us, or the vase you originally requested with a fresh bouquet, or 10% off your next purchase”.

    It really doesn’t take much to please most customers. Everyone just wants to be heard.

    A great acronym I use is HEAT:

    Hear them out
    Agree with them
    Take action

    That’s all people really want. If a company cannot satisfy a customer simply because that is not what the company’s mission is, then fine – ‘good bye, we’ll miss you’. But consider what the purpose of your business is. Have you served your customers?

    One of my company’s core foundational blocks is ‘ecstatic customers’. For me, it’s worth it. And a satisfied customer brings me more customers. To make a situation right, it probably costs very little. The ROI is usually well worth it in the praise I get for treating my customers well.

    As for the KKK hat – horrific, but as another mentioned, did it REALLY interfere with an attendant’s ability to perform his or her duties? Please… let it roll and know that that person has a LOT more issues in their life that what you can solve in a 3 hour flight.

  73. My dad was in business for 53 years — made a lot of money. One of the things he said to me on a regular basis was “the customer is always right… unless he’s wrong.” If he had a customer who complained on a regular basis, he would put up with it for awhile… but, at some point, he would say “I can’t please you Joe — you’ll have to find another shop.” Then he would send them to his competitors. He sent the “trouble” to his competitors and kept the good customers happy. He started with nothing and died worth three million (this was in ’92) — he was a first class businessman. Also, he didn’t have that need to keep growing the business. Once he got to a certain level (his comfort zone), he turned down opportunities for growth — and he was a very relaxed guy — always had $100,000 cash in the bank and no heart attack. Everything paid for… no debt. Smart guy.

  74. I agree wholeheartedly with this article. After spending most of my early adult life working in chain retail stores, starting work at a (very) small business was an amazing change for me. The fact that I know for 100% sure that my manager, boss, and everyone else in our store will side with me (within reason, of course) is an amazing boost of confidence.

    In fact, just last week we had a very rude customer – a minor miscommunication (he didn’t specify a detail on an order for custom awards, I didn’t ask) left him demanding that we give him his order for free or he was going to walk. We managed to work something out with him, but my supervisor pulled me aside later and told me that if anyone ever treats me like that ever again, to come get him and let him deal with it. I wouldn’t trade my job for anything.

  75. I have a relative who works in an ultra elite boutique hotel, and they have interesting stories to relate in this regard. You’d think that customers paying upwards of $5000 per night for a hotel suite would be treated like royalty – and you’d be right. But a lesser known fact is that most of these hotels have a line, and if you cross it, you’re more than likely to be sent a very polite letter from the management basically telling you that unfortunately you won’t be staying there again, ever. Basically the threshold is : abuse or threats to staff. It’s good to see business is finally getting the message here – you can be nice to your customers and your staff – the two are not mutually exclusive.

  76. He is right.

    I’ve worked in the customer service field for many years.
    I have seen things that would make Drill Sargents break down and cry.

    When I worked for Pizza hutt I was even shot at by a customer for being 5 minutes late because he gave me the wrong adress!

    I’ve had a customer slap me because she wanted something we were out of!

    I agreee some times it’s the employees but a lot of the time it’s the customers too.

    I have seen other employee who are the sweetest people on earth get cursed at for nothing. Some people are just hateful people. They hate their life and take it out on people who serve them.

    Just like in the movie Clerks. “Just because they serve you dosen’t mean they like you.”

  77. Interesting article.
    I think this is not a clear cut argument. BT or Talk Talk & many other telco firms customers are treated so badly that they have to resort to almost agressive behaviour to get any service when things go wrong.

    On the other side of the argument, we always give customers good service.
    It pays dividends 99.9% of the time as we find most argumentative customers come back and buy. But ocassionally we do fire customers if they repeatedly act in a poor way.
    I agree staff should not have to put up with the abuse they often get but I think the bad firms that give bad service & upset customers – prime them into being pains when dealing with other good firms


  78. Best advice I ever got was from my first boss, whose motto was ‘The customer is always wrong’.

    What you have to understand, he used to say, is that a customer is like a dog. You must show him you are leader of the pack, otherwise he will trample all over you.

    Let the customer know you are boss from the start and you gain his respect. He won’t start whining when things go wrong.

    The customers I hate are those who think they are doing me a favor by doing business with me. My response is I am doing them a favor and they are lucky I’ve agreed to take them on as a customer.

    I love it when customers say. “I get better service at XXX.” My immediate response is to drag them out into the street and say, “Off you go then. I hear they love whining bastards.”

    It’s time we stopped treating customers like royalty. They are just human beings like the rest of us. Give them the best service you can, but don’t take any nonsense.

  79. I formerly owned a retail store, and I made sure that my co-workers understood that when it comes to customers and customer service: “The customer is always right… until they’re wrong.”
    Typically those “wrong customers” are incredibly wrong, and abusive, and a complete waste of time and resources.

    I agree wholeheartedly.

  80. This is an excellent article, and I completely agree with everything that was said. Thankfully, I work for an organization that will tell a customer when they are out of line. Generally it is left up to management, but I have heard my supervisors on more than one occasion, tell a customer that they have no right to verbally abuse the employees and they can take their business elsewhere. Our office is tops in customer service, and I definitely think that it has to do with the way our superiors appreciate and stand behind their sales staff.

  81. I agree with PJ the hat case is a poor example but your argument is valid. There is no excuse for customers to abuse employees but there should always be consideration given to valid complaints.
    The customer is not always right but then nor are companies that supply services and goods.
    By learning what customers complain about you can improve the service your company provides for all of your customers and everyone.wins.

  82. About the hat, I think people should be alowed to make asses of themselves if they wish. About customers thinking they are better than you or other paying custoemers because they buy a ticket from you, I think they should be allowed to go somewhere else. At Cingular (now AT&T) , they seem to treat whinning customers better than the loyal ones, thus disapointing the quiet customers and by avoiding a bit of churn have a really bad employee turnover and incredibly bad moral. If most customers knew how bad the employee gets treated, they would leave just for the same reason some people boycott companies that treat dogs and whales badly. After all the employees aer human beings.

  83. Good points made by the author. I own a small retail establishment and work hard to provide good products and service to our customers. The vast majority of our new customers are referred by word of mouth, so we probably aren’t doing too bad of a job in those arenas.

    But we have had our share of bad customers. We have had customers that carelessly damage merchandise, the shoplifters, customers that let their children run unsupervised through the shop tearing the place apart, customers that demand every last moment of attention from the staff regardless of other customers, that demand to enter private areas and stock rooms and that denigrate/abuse the shop, the stock, the staff etc.

    I just won’t put up with those types of customers and most of the time these “customers” aren’t buyers, rather they are tire kickers that take their toll on our financial bottom line, the morale and goodwill of other customers and staff, and they waste everyone’s time with their drama. Frankly, I can do without them and their theoretical money.

    Someone in the talk-back said that bad customers are rare and they while they certainly aren’t the norm, bad behaviour isn’t as rare as one would think and we deal with the plainly rude to the occasional outrageous on a daily basis. We start from a position of trying our best to please but like that boutique hotel, once a line is crossed, the welcome wears out.

  84. I’m with the other commenters here who make the point that this article is too one-sided in putting the blame on the customers. Yes, there are abusive customers who are impossible to satisfy, but the vast majority of customers isn’t of that kind (my personal experience, and I worked in IT support). If customers become loud, or insulting, there is a high chance that there is a good reason for them losing their temper. Much more often than not, it’s simply the lousy service experience with the company that pushed them across the border. You can’t expect telephone customers who had to spend more than 20 minutes of their lifetime in a waiting loop on the phone to still be patient and polite. You can’t expect airline passengers, who had to wait for hours past the schedule for their flight to depart, to stay calm and collected. You can’t expect retail buyers, who had to waste a lot of time and money to return a faulty item to your store, to be happy people.

    This goes on and on, in every business there are such examples where customers have rightful complains about a company that didn’t deliver a product as advertised, and the inconvencience of having to deal with this will negatively influence the customer’s mood. Face it, people aren’t superhumans who stand above all emotions, so you have to expect and deal with inevitable outbursts in such cases. For support staff, this means it’s necessary to stay calm, be sympathetic towards the customers (you wrote a story about that, Alexander, do you remember?), and to never forget that this isn’t something personal. After all, the anger isn’t really directed at them personally, but at the company. If you don’t have the thick skin to deal with this, a job where you have to deal with customers isn’t the one that will make you happy.

    This isn’t to say that there aren’t borderline cases, where customers behaviour really is unacceptable. Sure there are. But the general rule “the customer is aways right” is still a good one. It’s just that nobody ever said there aren’t exceptions from this.

    The problem I, and several other commenters, see with your story is that that you one sidedly only write about extreme cases, and not about the much more common ones where customers have a good reason to be p****** off. The postings here show that some misunderstood this story as an alibi for kicking every customer who doesn’t stay calm collected and polite when dealing with them. Look at the most extreme example, Mr. Danver, who even expressed his glee about the chance to throw a customer out of his building! Is this the message you wanted to spread, are staffers like Mr. Danver the ones you would like to see dealing with customers? I guess not.

    Sry, Alexander, but this story leaves much to desire. Maybe it would be a good idea to do a follow up, focussing on how to deal with customers who have good reasons to be enraged about the company. And especially about how to distinguish them from those extremists who can’t be satisfied, no matter what.

  85. We recently had a customer who bounced a check, and had the audacity to call my customer service manager with a tirade of yelling & profanity (before she could explain what had happened). She was calm and waited for him to settle down and tried to explain. His comment: “There is no way I bounced this check for $35, I have over $15,000 in that account!!!” He continued to use profanity, only to stop when my CS Manager politely told him that if he didn’t quit, she would hang up. He continued to yell at her and didn’t understand that because he bounced a check that is why we didn’t send his product. Later, he emailed a complaint to the corporate office stating how rude and unprofessional she had been and that her response was “there was nothing she could do”. We send bounced checks to a 3rd party collection agency & he needed to contact them to get the problem taken care of, there really wasn’t anything she could do, personally.

    I would have liked to give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe there was something wrong at his bank that caused the NSF, either way the customer DOES NOT have the right to harass my employees. I just happened to be in the office that day and could hear him screaming at her over the phone. I think she handled it WONDERFULLY; I took her out to lunch!

    I don’t believe that a customer has the right to verbally assault my employees and I have trained them not to take that type of abuse from anyone.

  86. Just a proposition: Why not write a story about the happy feeling you get when you manage to turn a p***** off person into a satisfied customer again? And about the best ways to accomplish that (you seem to already have given some hints in this blog, but I didn’t find a story focussing on it)? That would be much more helpful in business than simply throwing everybody out who is losing his temper because of annyance about your product or your service. Remember, all in all, it’s much more expensive to gain new customers than to keep existing ones!

  87. “We send bounced checks to a 3rd party collection agency & he needed to contact them to get the problem taken care of, there really wasn

  88. The good customers, the so-so customers, and the fairly unpleasant customers should be given grade-A customer service. The abusive, nasty customers with unreasonable demands should be – politely, if possible, more firmly, if not – told to take their business elsewhere.

    True story, though I admit it sounds made-up. (I had a very hard time believing it was happening even while it was happening.): I ran a bookstore. A woman whom I had never seen before came to the front counter, trying to get a cash refund on a book. The clerk called me when the customer demanded to speak to the manager.

    I was polite and cheerful, as usual, and asked the woman to tell me what she wanted. She made an insulting comment about the clerk, then said she wanted a refund for the book she had brought in.

    The book was a test-prep manual. First, it looked as though it had been knocking around in the floorboard of someone’s car for a couple of years – the cover was torn and dirty, and the pages were dogeared and fanned apart in places. I opened the book, and the answers had been circled in pencil through the whole book. Additionally, the book was at least three years out of date, maybe more (I don’t recall exactly after all this time).

    The kicker was this: I found a receipt tucked into the book. It showed that the book had been purchased at a different store – a used book store – two years earlier. Of course, I declined to give her a refund. I was not insulting or unpleasant, but I suggested she might try getting a refund from the used book store, since there was a receipt from there.

    She became extremely nasty and demanded that I call my district manager. I made the call, and she spoke with him. She handed the phone back to me, saying, “He wants to talk to you.”

    He told me to to take the book and give her the money. I backed away from the counter and in a low voice explained the situation, in detail – receipt, pencil marks, out of date, the whole thing. He said to give her the money: “Isn’t it worth $12 to get her out of your face?”

    I told him that, no, it wasn’t. She was abusing our return policy and was bullying to get her way. She was no different than a shoplifter or a bad check artist. He ordered me to make the refund.

    The woman had a very smug look on her face as I hung up the phone. I gave her the refund book, and she filled out the form. Although a drivers license was required, she refused to show one. I noted this on the form and made the refund. As I slid the money across the counter, I leaned across and said in a low, menacing voice, “Do not *ever* show your face in my store again.”

    She looked startled, and a little frightened, I think, as she hurried out the door. I started looking for another job that same evening.

  89. I agree with benenglish Said…let’s not turn this into “The employee is always right”…lets face it: neither sides are always right and both sides are frequently wrong. How about an honest, objective evaluation of a situation from both sides?

    Granted, the customer with the KKK child could have probably spent his time doing something better than harassing an airline industry…which indicates he probably was a cook to begin with…not to mention the fact that he is promoting racism in his child…but that doesn’t give credence to a thin-skinned employee or bending the rules to suit your personal needs…

  90. benenglish: Thank you for saving me from writing this post. This is absolutely what I see here — the attendant’s personal feelings were affected and everyone in the organization threw bogus rules and regulations at the customer to avoid admitting they overreacted.

    Better solution: Cabin attendant approaches first officer. First officer asks for private conversation with customer and apologizes for his being singled out this way. Then explains that the hat is offensive, would he consider putting it away for the trip? If yes, everything is good. If no, then first officer thanks customer for his time and regrets that he could not see his way to accommodating the needs of others. First officer talks privately to cabin attendant and asks her to let it go, and be sure to provide exceptional service to the customer.

    Cabin attendant has not been told she is wrong to feel offended, customer has not been forced into a corner. The flight leaves on time, customer is left with something to think about.

  91. I am in a position to make decisions about replacing customers’ computers. I am more than happy to accommodate people who have had bad repair experiences. I am not, however, the alternative to having to shop for a new computer once your old one gets too old, or the warranty is about to go out.

    It’s a fine line to walk, but on replacement decisions the management at my company will back me up.

    Now, if they would only realize with customer satisfaction scores, the person who did not get a replacement for multiple callins is more likely to send back a score than the person whose important data you just spent an hour and a half saving.

  92. Dear Jo,
    Are you kidding? You are worried about depriving me of the chance to make people happy?
    There are a lot of people that it gives me great pleasure to help and to make happy, nice people, people in a jam, disadvantaged people, children, the elderly, just about anybody who is reasonable and non abusive.
    Unfortunately, my ability and my willingness to help these people is often severely curtailed by the incredible demands placed by the high maintenances princesses and abusive princes out there who demand that the world rotate around them and their excessive sense of entitlement. These people take up an unfair share of my time, my energy and my goodwill.
    When i have just spent 25 mins placating an abusive customer who is demanding service far beyond any reasonable expectations and I have to swallow all of their nastiness and watch them get special treatment just because they are used to getting away with terrible behavior, I do not enter my next customer transaction happy and hopeful and desiring to please.
    I think it is terrible that those with the most outrageous narcissistic behavior are accommodated at the expense of nicer, less demanding customers who follow in their footsteps.
    I think this is an especially big problem with people who are making phone calls- they are safely sheltered by anonymity and therefore feel free to absolutely abuse whomever they please. If you have never answered a customer service phone line, please try it and then worry about me losing out on the opportunity to please people especially those for whom obeisance is like a drug, the more they get the more they demand!
    Speaking of pleasing people, at some point i deserve to please myself. I deserve to work hard, and go home not feeling like people have been pounding me up like a punching bag every day.

  93. So…instead of saying ‘customer is always right’, let’s prefer to say ‘customer is the king’. We will find some kings with bad character!

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  95. When a customer is being unreasonable, then I totally agree with the above.

    But every day, people working for every single company dig in their heels on customer service issues and simply don’t treat customers the way they should be treated – with respect.

    Consumerist is filled every day with examples of this, of customers asking for things that are pretty straightforward, and running up against someone who is enabled only to say no, leaving a frustrated customer and an oblivious company.

  96. More on the “KKK hat guy” issue ( I know…. you’re tired of it already….)

    I realize the article didn’t go into detail about the particular incident but I must say I’m surprised at the comments who support the hat wearer. Clearly, those in support have never worked for an airline or fly very often. As a frequent flyer, I absolutely do not want to be on a plane with some guy wearing a blatantly offensive piece of clothing. This person’s conduct puts everyone’s lives at risk and is completely unnecessary.

    First off, you do not have the same rights on an airliner as you would walking down the street. You agree to specific terms of conduct when you purchase an airline ticket. The FAA also has strict federal regulations regarding airline travel. Both these policies allow airline personnel a great deal of leeway to exercise judgement in cases like this.

    Wearing offensive clothing only serves to create an emotional reaction in others. The only reason the KKK guy would wear a hat like that was to get a rise out of people. He might hide behind the whole “free speech” thing but we all know that doesn’t play.

    Here’s the problem and why I support the flight attendant and the airline – – Flying is a very stressful activity for many people. Even as an experienced flyer I still get nervous occasionally. Many people are flat out scared of flying. They’re stressed over the whole ordeal, they’re nervous, they’re tense and some are intoxicated. That is a VERY dangerous mix when you put 100+ people in a cramped environment at 40,000 feet in the air. Adding in a very emotional element (Racist images) to this is like throwing fuel on a fire. Who knows what the hell is gonna happen.

    EVERYONE, even the racist hat guy, is better off, safer, if the hat is removed or the person taken off the plane. It doesn’t serve the racist to be surrounded by scared people who might overreact emotionally to the hat. Airline personnel are not just there to serve you drinks and peanuts and show you how to wear a seatbelt. There is no defensible reason for creating even more tension onboard an airplane. The “it’s free speech” argument simply doesn’t apply in this situation. If the racist hat guy were walking down a public street, different situation. But there is no logic, no defense, no reason at all to create MORE possible problems in an already emotionally charged environment. The airline personnel know this all too well. And clearly, the blogosphere doesn’t. I’m not willing to risk my life just so some prick can get off on pushing people’s buttons, and neither should anyone else reading this.

    “Grow a thicker skin” or stating “its free speech, protected by the Constitution” means NOTHING at 40,000 feet. The Constitution is not going to save your life if an incident happens on that plane. Airline personnel are 100% in their right to deny service to anyone who could pose a risk to passengers, crew or the aircraft. He wants to wear his racist Hate Hat? Fine, take the bus. Kudos to the airlines and anyone else who tells a nasty customer to hit the road.

  97. I love this blog. And I think Alex gets it right on a whole host of things. But there are at least two very good reasons to account for the widespread adoption of the slogan that ” the customer is always right.”

    First, we’re all somebody’s customer, and we all want to be treated well. It’s a great comfort to be able to tell oneself, in the presence of bad service and unhappy service reps that “They ought to treat me better, I’m right about this! And without me, they’re going to go out of business!”

    And there is a second and more compelling reason to pay attention to customers as if they are always right. It’s because the customer has power. The power to walk away. The power to takes others away, through word of mouth. And in the case of the public sector, the power to stick around, become a crank, make life difficult. When you look at the source of bad customer behavior, you almost always find an event or incident in which the customer felt dissed, dismissed, or disrespected. And while it may be true that as many as 10% of unhappy customers are just unhappy no matter what, they become a true testing ground for service representatives to develop their skills, their stamina, and their service ethic. The option remains in any business to say “We’re sorry you’re not happy. We wish you well,” admit the relationship isn’t working and then refer them to a competitor.

    But at the end of the day, this ought to be your last line of defense, not the first resort. When all else fails, you have this inevitable fall back position. I think it better to fall forward (learn eveything you can, apply it and keep going!) I’d be concerned that getting rid of unhappy customers by deciding to be right that they’re not right could become the easy way out with difficult consequences. I’d rather find reasons to love my customers than make excuses for losing them. I made this case in my coauthored book, Love Thy Customer.’ Sometimes you have to use tough love on the toughest customers, but that’s not about losing them, it’s about transforming the relationship with them so that it brings out the best in them.

    Now, if Alex were my customer, I wouldn’t be making this case until I let him know that I want to better understand the case he makes. Because it could turn out that helping him with his business is good for my own.

    You have a terrific blog, Alex! Keep up the great work!

  98. Great article. I agree with an earlier poster that said that anyone who disagrees is, in all likelyhood, one of the loud-mouthed, arrogant customers that this article exposes.

    On a side-note, am I the only one who was disappointed that the Nazi-hat story didn’t end with the father being escorted off the plane at 30,000 feet? =)

  99. I agree with your article.
    I used to work in an environment where as an employee you got absolutely no support by supervisors and/or Management, they would actually stand there and listen to the customer hurling abuse at you and do nothing to stop it or defend you and as soon as you opened your mouth to defend yourself or explain the situation you were condemned and castigated.

    I quickly lost all respect for the Supervisors, Managers and the Company and although by nature I am generally the kind of person who would take delight in going beyond the call of duty, I wasn’t so quick to do so while I worked there.

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  102. @ Sally

    Sorry not to have followed on sooner – fortunately for me I had Easter off with my family.

    It sounds as if there is a corner of your job that is distinctly unpleasant and it is probable that if you find it so, so would we.

    The question might be, what can we do about it?

    Hope you had some time off over the weekend,

    Kind regards,

  103. Customer service is dead, particularly in large-scale business. Consumers are after the best deal they can get. Low price is paramount, followed by product/service features. 95% of American consumers will take whatever crap a business dishes out to them without complaint, in return for a low price or some cool product feature that the competition doesn

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  105. I work in retail myself, and I agree with this wholeheartedly.

    We get treated like the SCUM OF THE EARTH just because we take your money, bag your items, and are FORCED to be nice to people that swear at us.

    If we’re not happy, we’re not even allowed to show it any more. I got in trouble for not smiling enough because the customer thought that after they had called me names and made fun of my weight, I should still smile at them.

    People often want us to try and bend time and space to get them stuff we no longer have in the store, and throw a FIT when we tell them we can’t do it.

    In retail, you have a very good chance of even being attacked, hit, stalked, etc. by your customers. There’s been pizza delivery people that have been attacked by dogs. One person in japan got THEIR EYE POKED OUT WITH AN UMBRELLA!

    So a big Screw Off to all you who think that you’re always right. People can be assholes, and we get to deal with the people that think that since we aren’t allowed to talk back, that makes it okay for them to treat us like crap.

  106. The Customer is Never Right!

    I’ve had abusive customers of all varieties: physical, mental, emotional. I had a lady throw a bag of flour at me when I wouldn’t accept it as a return. The flour came from a company that my store didn’t carry. I’ve had a jug of milk thrown at me and ended up covered in expired, disgusting liquid. I’ve had customers scream at me, cuss at me, physically try to grab me. I had a woman call the cops on me because I sold her son a candy bar when he came through my line unaccompanied. She calmed it was “attempted murder” because he was allergic.

    And what did my lovely management do? They catered to the every whim of these horrible people. They backed down from every policy I had ever been taught. They allowed abusive customers continue their absurd behavior. They rewarded these people for their unfathomable sense of entitlement. They lost the trust of every single employee and made us all hate our jobs.

    There is a need for good customer service. If people aren’t doing their jobs properly then there is a very obvious problem. But when people have unrealistic expectations (such as a 75% discount just because they decided to grace the store with their presence) and take it out on the employees when such demands cannot be met it is the companies job to take care of their employees.

    When I worked in service I was tired of people thinking they could treat me like trash just because I was an employee. I was tired of being treated as less than human because I had a low value job. And I am very tired of watching employees being harassed and treated abusively by ignorant, mean spirited, nasty people.

  107. I think it’s about time that business start standing up for their employees, i’ve been yelled at and had items thrown in MY face too many times because the customer is illiterate! If you can’t read that’s your problem don’t throw a hissy fit when you find out your WRONG!!! Right on with the customer isn’t always right!!

  108. I worked at a large office supply retailer during college and can definitely agree that these unruly customers have gone unchecked for too long. It isn’t that customer service is dead, like Professor Dogbert would have us think, it is that respect for those around us is dead. During my stint in retail I had people say things to me…that they would never say to their friends, loved ones or even their co-workers. But they felt that they were justified in insulting my looks/intelligence/abilities because they were the customer and I was the retail worked. I was expected to 1.) take it and 2.) no be intelligent enough to get what they were saying to me.

    Did my managers ever stand up for me when customers would throw hissy fits in the middle of the store and pitch products at me? Nope. I mean, how many of you who cry foul of customer service standards have had a ream of paper thrown at you at high speed? How many of you have been told that you, personally, are an idiot because that item that was featured in the ad was now out of stock?

    It comes down to respect. If you want quality customer service then big businesses do need to start treating employees on all levels (not just the higher-ups) with respect. Take their side! To those of you who feel that your cashiers are becoming more and more surly..then give them a compliment the next time you’re in! You have no idea what kind of abuse they’re expected to put up with (for minimum wage!) during the course of their shift.

  109. Today I call Comcast. My OnDemand service does not work and this is the 4th time I am calling about it (they send a signal to try and fix it.) I tell the lady that we have had nothing but problems with the box and could we have another one sent to us. Yes she says but it will cost you 19.95 for them to bring a new box. I explain again that this is not the first time we have had an issue. “The box is not defective so you will have to pay $19.95.”
    Fine I hang up and call again. I tell the operator that I am canceling my service and switching to DirectTV. The lady is the model of great customer service: Why? I explain that I don’t think I should have to pay for them to replace what seems to be a faulty box. She says that they never charge for a replacement box and will have someone out here TOMORROW. In addition she is going to reduce our bill and send us pay per view coupons.
    This is why we have to be bastards to get anything done! If the first lady had simply said she would replace the box in the next month I would have been happy but no I had to call again, be all angry about the service and tell them to cancel it before they would do what they did in the first place. And it has cost them time (to fit me in tomorrow) and money (the discounts they have to give me to entice me to stay.) As someone said earlier in this comment section, customer service in the US is all but dead.

  110. I read this post the other day and it was hiding in the back of my mind then this past Thursday I had a job interview. The interviewer asked me, “What do you feel about the statement, ‘The customer is always right’?” I remembered this post and mentioned these points as well as embellished to make it more appropriate to the job description. After I answered that, the interviewer told me that I was the first person all day to answer that question correctly (she had already interviewed 6 people). Today I got a call offering me the position. I’d like to think that it had something to do with this blog post.

    Thanks :)


  111. I run a small company with about 20 employees. One day I heard commotion coming from the reception area. I hear a man yelling “I am the customer, you work for me and the customer is always right!”. I immediately went up and said, “No sir, you can’t get away with what you get away with at Walmart here. This young lady works for me and no matter what you think you were right about, you raised your voice and are no longer welcome.”

    He needed our services and wrote a letter of apology for his ‘cranky mood’.

    You raise your voice and you are out. No exceptions.

  112. Customers and the Service Industry

    Customers often behave and display an abusive destructive nature upon society. As a consumer; is there any excuse for treating a service employee in so many unacceptable manners? It’s an atrocity in etiquette that must be dealt with; in public and by phone that an employee has rights as a citizen of a civilized country to be treated with respect and dignity.
    When such unruly behavior is displayed in various arenas of life consumers are often escorted away, fined or imprisoned for such acts of violence. What makes the consumer think they can behave as they please and most often in a degrading way towards anyone?
    Perhaps a landmark Lawsuit brought against a consumer would be the only thing that could wake the public in that…
    “Hey… I need to behave on my end as well.”

    When a person takes employment within a company, do they give up their rights as a citizen, as a human being; to the corporation and the public?

    I have worked in a call center for seven years; I also have worked the drive through at a fast food restaurant for three years.

    I have spent a great deal of my life learning to deal with people venting upon me, and it is not easy over coming the experience of being a public punching bag.
    I have studied all sorts of ways in dealing with juvenile communication skills within the service industry as well as a consumer being served.
    I’ve dealt with people

  113. Some customers can be a right pain in the butt, especially those who say they are going to buy and don’t. Why not just be upfront about it.

  114. Fantastic article!

    I’ve worked in customer service my entire working life (uh, BA in history, what else am I going to do) and I currently work for a company that will fire customers. Knowing that I don’t have to smile while some guy tells me that he hopes my first-born is deformed takes a weight off my shoulders. It makes it easier to genuinely empathize with the reasonably upset customers.

    Anyone who works in the service industry knows these people. They’re more than upset, they’re unreasonable and abusive. They’ve gone beyond demanding satisfaction and now are just trying to hurt you. These people are bad for business. They are 1 in 100,000 but keeping one around despite the abuse is a great way to prompt an employee to walk one day.

    Is that one customer’s twice yearly purchase worth more than the cost to hire and train a new employee?

  115. “The customer is always right is wrong”
    Oh yea, this is true. I had to deal with a former sales manager that put you guilty FIRST until proven innocent when the customer had a gripe. Couldn’t stand that mentality. She questioned my ethics and she was wrong. I’m so glad to be working solo.

  116. In my line of buisness I have laws that must be obeyed in the dispensing of substances. Daily is the tirade of “I’m the customer, I’m right” Aside from the yelling and spitting et al. we have had patients angry to the point as to smash into other cars in the drive through on purpose because they did not get their way. Something has got to give. The bad eggs ruin buisness for the rest of us.

  117. I agree with the essence of the article and I wish my employer felt the same way. I must say though that the hat issue was a little over the top. As ridiculous as the kid’s hat probably was, wearing it could hardly be classified as interfering with anyone. As long as they’re not actively bothering anyone, you just have to let idiots be idiots sometimes. Whether it was a Black Panther hat, a KKK hat or any other type of hat, nobody has an inherent right to not be “offended.” Personally, I’m deeply disturbed by Florida Gators hats, but that’s another story.

  118. That is the problem with huge, multinational corporations. They have so much business, they can afford to turn customers away. That is why I do not use them, even though I am sure that my not using them does not affect them one bit. At least they are not getting my money, however. what the corporations need is a hugh worldwide economic collapse to show them where their obscene profits come from. I only wish that the customers would unite and show these a-holes who really is right. As for me, I will use any power of persuasion that I have to turn people away from Southwest Airlines. Let us then see where their rude employees get them with no money coming in… I can hope.

  119. Block is right. Take McDonald’s for example. A huge multinational corporation that does not give a crap about individual customers. McDonald’s employees are usually rude, self-absorbed teenagers who have the communication skills of a third grader. You are telling me that the management is going to take their side, and screw the customer?!? Well, they won’t be getting my money. Unfortunately, that’s all I can do. I agree with Block, though – it would be nice to see customers band together against rude employees and boycott the companies. They would do well lto remember – rude employees are an expense, but customers are revenue!

  120. YEAH! McDonald’s employees don’t even listen to you. The other day I ordered a Big Mac and like, instead I got a Filet of Fish!!! So I said, like, “YO! what’s sup wit’ dat?” Then the manager, he goes like, “if you don’t like it, then take yo’ ass to Burger King.” So I did. It’s time to take on the big corporations!!!

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  122. Great post i deal with some of those people who are never are satisfied, direct them somewhere else some people are not worth the time or aggravation.

  123. I think your #4 made a good point – and I also agree that each customer needs to be looked at on a case by case basis. I do however, think that although the customer isn’t always right – neither is Joe Shmo you’re talking to in the customer service department. I recently watched an interview with Fox and the president of Mindshare. He made some really good points about this. So, although I agree, to a point, with what you said, I still think companies need to put more effort into their service.

  124. You are 100% right, when I ran my own driving school I used to say ” If I’m going to have business I’m going make sure that its good business.

    So a few people dont get turned on by you, your product or company etc. So what, let them go. When are people going to get it?. Somethings are not to be and some customers are best allowed to go.

  125. What a great post and point of view. It’s been pounded into our heads that the customer is always right… but they’re not. Of course, we can learn a lot from our upset customers that can improve our business. We probably learn more from those who experience problems than those who send compliments. Although we like the positive stuff it’s good to take a serious look at upset customer feedback. If it’s garbage then throw it out, if not, then put it to use. There was an interview on Fox with the president of Mindshare and he talked about this.

  126. Richard Hanks, the president of MindShare discusses some of these old maxims in his book Deliver and Measure. He’s got some interesting ideas of how to revamp these old-timey customer service ideals and apply them to the 21st century. It helped change my outlook on why customer service is important and how to carry it out.

  127. The customer is always the customer. They have to abide by the company policies just as much as employees do. This does not mean to be rude to your customers, but there is nothing wrong with explaining the company policies to them when they complain.

  128. Agree completely, nothing wrong with explaining company policies to unhappy customers. But it’s now what you say, it’s how you say it. If you have to enforce an unpopular policy, try a little tenderness. Explain the benefit of the policy to the business, and how that benefits the customer. Do all of this while OWNING the policy, so they feel like they are talking to an insider instead of an outsider. And let them know you understand it’s a hardship for them. (Even if it’s not, if they think it is, perception is everything, so IT IS!)

    I think companies need to give great service to their employees in the same way that companies expect their employees to give great service to customers. The way we deal with unhappiness and dissatisfaction in others says a lot about who we are and what we value. If the most important thing in dealing with a customer is that you’re right and they’re wrong, you are setting yourself up for increasing difficulty, the spreading of poison to others, and the possible failure of the business that employs you. So a little persuasion instead of righteous indignation goes a long way.

  129. I have now worked for 12 years in various retail and helpdesk positions, “The customer is always right” just doesn’t work. The customer shauld always be listened to, definitely, but sometimes they either are out to defraud the system or they do not have all the information they need to be right.
    One comment, that has been made by a number of posters, is that in their opinion customer service (especially by way of a telephone helpdesk) is a dying art. To offer another perspective – the company I currently work charges slightly more for its services than our competitors, but when you call our helpdesk you speak to someone (generally) within 2 minutes. Our largest competitor regularly runs wait times of 30 minutes or more (not rumour, I have experienced this myself within the recent past). The result? Customers are moving from our company to our competitor, meaning the company I work for is trialling out-sourcing the call centre to save costs (and bring prices down).
    The point I’m trying to make is, a lower standard of customer service is something customers demonstrate they are willing to tolerate for lower prices every day. You get what you pay for.

  130. OHH, yes, I can’t stand those customers, with some “polite” finger pointing it is often exactly what they need to be put in their place ;-)

  131. I agree that there is certainly a need to differentiate your customers for the sake of your business. Many customers take adbvantage of “always being right” which can create imbalance of business energy. Take it case by case. You can’t please everyone..

    Farrah Ashline

  132. Evie,

    I could use an employee like you. Your post essentially embodies the balance between excellent customer service and having “bad apple” customers running amok taking over a business to it’s detriment and that of the unfortunate patrons and employees that are trying to conduct their activities in peace.

    After all, how good can an establishment’s service be if other uninvolved customers are wholly disturbed by a disruptive element that is not only not removed or controlled but is actually catered to?

    Such is the balance that I strive to achieve every day as a business owner that has on occasions had to “fire” a few customers that just couldn’t get it together to respect the business, it’s merchandise, me as the owner or the other customers.

    Good for your management for taking care of their people as well as the business.

  133. What should a customer do to get a refund from a freelance business?
    Nothing was what it says. Any helpful ideas, please share with me. respond ASAP. Thanks.

  134. I agree with Jeremy. These airlines will not be in service long if they act the way advocated in the 2 cited books.

    It is very simple: in a competitive business, the company that make make the most customers consistently happy will succeed. No company that consistently puts the customer second will thrive, no matter how good the employees feel. If they don’t like working there then they should join a union.

  135. Bill, the inverse of that; any company that consistently treats their employees as second-hand help, or inferior to the “rude, abrasive,” and in my words just plain damn ignorant customer of today, will not have a workforce.

    Customers can be wrong. Appeasement isn’t a good policy in any way, shape, or form. And more importantly, I’m tired of doing BS things just to make one of these rude, abrasive, ignorant customers happy.

    And in case anyone is about to criticize me for posting in anonymity about how much I hate “the customer is always right” model of business, my name is Alex. I work at Office Max in Fairbanks AK. Come visit me, and I’ll give you the same service I give everyone, whether you yell or not.

  136. The locally owned drug store in Seattle always, always takes the customers side. I’ve seen customers verbally abusing, saying racial slurs to employees while the managers of some of the stores will not even stick up for them.

  137. HI,

    Just stumbled on your site….loved this entry….I’m gonna show my boss this stuff!!

  138. Thank you for an insightful article. I work part-time for Kroger (an Ohio grocery store chain) . The company’s philospohy is the customer is first and we never take exception to that. We do not argue, back talk or criticize them However, customers can call an employee out of our their name, threaten them, and verbally abuse them. Employees are told to walk away and get a manager to handle the situation. I customer claimed I damaged his auto mobile with a shopping cart, the manager talked to him, niot me and wrote a report against me. (This was a falsehood as the custoemr was parked in a ‘no parking zone’ and the cart was on an incline) I was threaten with job loss if I did not sign it and criticized for providing poor customer service. The customer is not always right and respect earns respect. As a customer and service provider I treat others the way I want to be treated and expect the same in return.

  139. The customer is often right but some customers are always wrong and the store should always support their staff when the customer is being unfair.
    What business wants or needs bad and troublesome customers?
    But sometimes the customer is completely right and the company is in the wrong. The sales staff should then do their best to satisfy the reasonable demands of the customer and admit it if they made errors.

  140. I worked at a Waste Management company. A rude customer called one day and was calling me names such as “you stupd idiot” etc. I hung up on the caller. The caller called the CEO. The CEO asked me about it and I told him what had happened. The CEO attacked me and said why couldn’t you have just said or done this. I was in trouble. No support for the employee. Definitely it impacted my attitude towards my job and the company and not in a positive way.

  141. Having been on both sides of the customer counter I fully agree. I worked for directory assistance and the numbers we could pull up varied from day to day but if we couldn’t find that number it was always our fault even if the customer gave the wrong information.

    In my current job at a hotel we get at least one person a month asking for rates given out by owners who long ago sold the property and have moved on or claiming they weren’t there-even if we can show their credit card was swiped and we have their signature on the check in and checkout paperwork. Thankfully I have a manager who has seen all the nonsense before and knows when a customer is trying to flim flam the hotel for super discount rate or a free stay and supports his employees in these matters.

  142. Wow! I didnt know this! I am a small time businessman in the Philippines, but it doesnt mean that I should always please the client even though they’re not hearing our sides. . .

    Can i ask someone here? coz I really dont know what is right and what to do!

    Here is the situation, I have a client purchasing emboss invitations, I was’nt there when they did the transaction, my sales representative gave it in a very low price unfortunately the materials that will be going to used increases, then I called the Client to inform that I have ask for additional charges, But she refused, she said that we already had the transaction and I have to take the risk.. I should orient my staff, “its not my fault jerome”…

    Fine I swallowed my pride and taken the risk, now its okay for me to give the price at what we have dealed with.

    The process is 2 – 3 weeks, She ordered the invitation dated 15 of March, but she gave the details thru email 23 of March, and that is the time that should the process starts.

    She called me and she wants to see the draft and lay-out on 29 of March, I explained her that she can only see the layout but not the actual invitation because the process of embossing takes 2-3weeks, The materials used took 5 – 6 days and the printing and embossing process will take another 5 days.

    She is not listening in my explanation, she insist to see the actual print outs before she will confirm.

    Later we will meet for the first time, I got really scared of what she will tell me and what will be the arguement will rise up.

    I explained everything, but she is not listening… She insist..

    She paid the down payment for the said transaction, and I am willing to cancel and give back her deposit. Just to finish this, I canceled all my other order just to focus on her demand.

    But she says “NO” I can sue you for that, You will pay for the damages. we already had the agreement”.

    Fine… Now its okay for me to continue coz i dont want any aberration, all I am asking is just give us the time because we also dont want to rush and the output will went worst.

    Actually the events will be held 2 months from now 28 of May. but she said that she don’t have the time to wait. I said that it will be done before the holly week.

    Am I asking to much?
    What will be my Action for this?
    Do you think she can sue me for this? for the damages that I caused her?

    Please I need your answer anyone… I am really having a hard time thinking for this..

    Please dont answer that I have to explain to her because I already did my best…

    Thank you inadvnace…

    Yours truly Jerome

  143. Maybe the customer is not _always_ right, but she is right to complain about surly service, bureaucratic answers to her questions (“because those are the rules,” for instance), shoddy products, and so forth. We live in an era when the customer is always wrong for most companies. Maybe that will change as we hit the rock bottom of this recession and companies realize that there is no longer a line of people to take an unhappy customer’s place.

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  145. Having worked in retail with the public for the last 30 years, I have noticed that customers expect more for less these days. I also notice that people who work with the public tend to treat me with more respect because they have walked a mile in those shoes. What I cannot understand (and my company will not stand to reason) is that people feel that because they buy your product or shop your store, they have the right to treat you without dignity or respect. Where is it written that you should have to be submissive or take it on the chin just to get a sale day after day? GOOD customers do business with you because of what you know, your product, your good price, and your loyalty to them as a customer. Once you start to bend the rules for them, you begin a journey down a slippery slope and its bound to end up in a bad. Good customer service isnt hard to accomplish if you feel supported by your company and respected by your customers. Knowing that some bad apples (customers or employees) are bound to pop up once in a while is a fact that all businesses should be prepared for. But if you fear every transaction may end in a complaint dept memo landing on your desk and a phone call to tell you that all customers deserve the best possible service every time, every day, no exceptions, no excuses, then you will never relax or enjoy your work. Good customers should get great treatment. Bad behavior shouldnt receive the same.

  146. I quite agree that real great customer service will win over fake great customer service any day.

    Response to commenter PJ: The hat in this case is not freedom of speech it is an expression of hate. Hate can and should be censored in the public domain.

  147. It isn’t necessary to nit-pick over examples. I AM one. Last year, my employer informed me that because I had generated so many complaints, he knew that whenever someone came to him with a complaint about me, that I was the one in the wrong. He would not be seeking me out to see what my side of the story was, not that he ever had before, either. I was told that these complaints showed that I wasn’t suited for the job and that was why I was managing the store in the evenings and would not be given the title of manager, ever.

    So, a few nights later when a woman sent her daughter into the store to buy ice cream and she didn’t qualify for the special sale price, the child returned to the car and told her mother that I threw the ice cream containers at her and told her to “get out of the store”. I knew that when that happened, I would be fired. The video tapes of the incident would not be reviewed, I would not be consulted, and I would most likely lose my job because I threw ice cream at a child. I was less than patient when I informed the child’s mother that everything was recorded, with sound, and that she was welcome to take her complaint to my boss in the morning. Once she heard that it could be easily proven that her child was a liar, we never heard from her again. A couple of weeks later, a man came in at closing time and attempted to purchase about 19 money orders. Everyone knew the machine would hold a lot at one time before printing them out, so the cashier entered all of them into the machine at once. The machine jammed and I, the ‘acting’ manager, was called to the service booth to fix the problem. However, in spite of my continued requests, no one wanted to take the time to train me on anything because I wasn’t a ‘real’ manager, so I had to call another store to try to find out how to fix the machine. This took time. The customer got impatient. The person at the other store didn’t know how to fix the problem, either. I offered the customer a refund, and he accepted, but he was very irate, saying that every time he came into the store he had problems with me. All of us had seen him in the store many times, but none of us had ever spoken to him. He had always been quiet when he was in the store. But, he said he knew my boss personally and he was going to tell him that I had broken the machine and was incompetent and that he’d had problems with me every time he came into the store.

    Knowing for sure I’d be fired because of his complaint, I went off on the man in the most unprofessional manner, telling him to make sure he got my name right. I didn’t cuss him or insult him, but because of the feeling of hopelessness against rediculous complaints, I did handle the situtation in a manner that probably actually lost business for my employer.

    No way was I going to confess what had happened to my manager. The customer never made the complaint. I realized that because of my managers insistence on not even consulting me, my ability to do my job had been greatly compromised. I told my manager that I would not be available to run the store at night any more.

    This is what this article is about. It’s not about denying all complaints, but rather about how some of them are from outright crazy people and taking their side would seriously damage your employee relations and thus your business, too.

  148. If a customer is so upset with your service, buy it back. Done. Arrange to blacklist the customer in the future.

    If you provide terrible products or services, and you know it. Placate the damned customer buy offering them what they believe they lost.

    We currently have the lowest quality products available in modern history. Most customers must deal with robots, people almost impossible to understand being paid pennies for their time.
    By the time they get to a person in management, their probably already wrote off civil comportment due to the respect they have just been shown.

    Have any of you read Atlas Shrugged? What happens when we stop producing?
    What happens when we try to pawn off junk as the only available product?
    What happens when there is no talent left to deal with issues?

    If you are incapable of dealing with clients, maybe regurgitating snippets is your way to make yourself adequate.

    If a customer is treated with respect and the product functions as promised, I promise, they will defend you and boast about you. The inverse is also true.

    I see the direction you are going in, I have see it go there before, elsewhere.
    Cheers, you will need it…

  149. i love this article; its so true. the customer being always right just gives customers the means to abuse employees without them being able to do anything about it.

  150. If you run a business you want to make money.

    If customer satisfaction is greater then cost to run a business then let the customer find someone else to do business with.

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  153. “If a customer is treated with respect and the product functions as promised, I promise, they will defend you and boast about you.”

    Totally untrue as there are many examples of customers behaving like jerks or worse are gaming the system for reduced prices or freebies. Intelligent companies have figured this out and have reasonable gatekeeping system in place that weed out the deserving from the idiots and swindlers.

    Professor Dogbert is right that there has been a race to the bottom line for getting the most for the cheapest and customer care if it even thought about is quickly dismissed.

  154. I sit opportunity time to obtain business as a real estate associate.
    We sit opportunity time without pay.

    I received a call this evening from a customer. He wanted to know about a home on the GSMLS. We handle the call in a way to obtain clients to secure a sale. The first question I asked is , do you have a sales associate? I don’t want to be accused of taking a buyer away from another sales associate. He said he had a sales associate. I said who is your sales associate? He didn’t want to say and then he said, WELL, I DON’T WANT TO BOTHER HIM WITH SMALL THINGS. With that said I was not a happy camper. I would have preferred that he lie to me and tell me that he couldn’t get hold of him. I was fishing for the GSMLS info and asked him again who his sales assocate was, I asked if it was one of our associates form our agency. He said no. Later he came walking into the office with this attitude that he was king and that he wanted to speak with my supervisor. He was right outside our office or on his way to our office calling from his cell phone. Who does this person think he is. NO, THE CUSTOMER IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT!!!. I COULD HAVE BEEN SITED FOR TAKING A CUSTOMER AWAY. Because I asked who his agent was he thought I didn’t want to help him. Unfortunately some sales associates don’t explain to their buyers in a firm and respectful way of how how the process works. I dont’ mind helping anyone, but don’t throw your weight at me. Who does this person think he is. He was disrespectful.

  155. As the economy worsens I am afraid the “customer is always right” will become more common as pressure to entice the dwindling number of customers grows. It is a such an old standby that in these hard times it will be a popular way to address money issues that may have other causes.

  156. Hello everyone , this is by far one of the most logical article ever podsted on the web , now there is my dilemna . I work for a Company with a poor customer service imamge which by my experience is not true , it is one of the north American largest retailer {no not walmart} a couples weeks ago I endured 40 minutes plus of constant yelling swearing cussing and how bad the service was , the inconsistency between the web site and among stores { you name it I heard it} as I was helping the Customer locate the merchandise they needed , a third person as vulgar as the first was also on line , I could not get a manager , I was alone and cornered , Then my senior partner came in and just about the same time another associate came in waving in fromnt of my desk , at first I thought she was kidding and ignored Her but then she said something like I have a customer,” I yelled can’t you see I can’t I am busy, my Partner replied I can’t help Him I have an appoitment in 10mm “. Needless to say the associate complained to management and now I very much face termination . In any business I would have told the customer my piece of mind but here we cannot even hang up. what’s your take ? Find another Employer ? well I actually like my work and by far the majority of the Customers I am turning 59 and that is not a positive point on the job market . My past experience earned the establishement the highest Customer service awards in the USA ,5 Diamonds AAA and 5 stars Mobil for outstanding customer service …

  157. Very nice article man i couldn’t agree with you more, I was workin for Wal-Mart last year and they were always putting their customers first before us, i had to deal with that for 11 months.

  158. This is true, you can waste a exorbitant amount of money on a customer that eats up your time and energy for petty complaints.

  159. When the 5% of problem customers interupt business with the other 95% of good customers, something isnt quite right. Unless you have worked with the general public, the walk in off the street public, its hard to describe to somebody else. 25 years ago, I worked with the general public and if a customer was rude, crude and socially unacceptable, they were BANNED FROM THE STORE! This practice is now looked at as poor customer service by many corporations. They only see lost dollars, lost profits and a bad image. My attitude about that is: A bad customer probably has friends who are bad customers and I dont want their business either! When my safety and mental health is less important than profits for the stock holders, then I am at the wrong company!

  160. Really? Most customers are rude idiots? Since you are also the customer sometimes, does that mean you think of yourself that way? With that kind of mindset you are quite likely to bring out the worst in people!

    I treat customer service people with the same respect I’d want shown to me. But bad behavior is endemic to our polarized society these days. Rather than taking it personally when someone has a bad day, I greatly admire those people delivering service who recognize that sometimes people have more going on in their lives than you, who know how to give the benefit of the doubt, who enjoy and like people enough to try and figure out what the problem is and do something about it. So much better to deal with such a person than a person who, in the words of George Bernard Shaw, are ‘feverish selfish little balls of ailments and grievances complaining that life will not devote itself to making (them) happy.”

    It’s great that frustrated customer service providers can vent in the relative safety and anonymity of this blog post. But a little sad to think of how many people find reinforcement here for their worst impulses and instincts.

  161. Big chain companies let customers sexually harass their employees. What do they have to lose? The employees? Pfft. They just grab some more from the long list of applicants. It saves the company money by keeping customers, and reducing the number of employees who are around long enough to deserve raises. It’s insane. But it’s ultimately profitable. How do we combat that?

  162. It works both ways. If employees want to be treated with respect, they ought to treat customers with respect too – unless, of course, the customer was disrespectful in the first place.

    The Southwest Airlines examples reminded me of an experience I had with them once… I was the last onto a flight, stumbling into the cabin in a state of mild panic and with my frail, elderly grandmother in tow. I hastily stuffed my suitcase into a cramped overhead locker and plonked down onto an empty seat. In my frenzied state of mind, I didn’t notice that my suitcase was half sticking out. Along came the flight attendant, sighing loudly and shaking her head; I thought she had a bad day or was irritated at some other passenger. “Seriously! Whose bag is that?” she yelled, pointing at my suitcase. It was only then that I realized: I quickly got up and adjusted my suitcase, without saying a word. She could have left me alone then, or even muttered a quick “thank you”, but no… what she said was: “Did you think it’s my job to do that for you?”

    So I was humiliated in front of all my fellow passengers, in spite of the fact that I quietly and respectfully cooperated with the flight attendant’s instructions. No – I wasn’t *right* – I’ll admit that I should have checked that my bag was properly stored before sitting down, but I certainly didn’t deserve to be humiliated like that!

  163. Matt 12:34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

    Matt 23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

    John 8:44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. 45 And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.

    Above are the words of Jesus Christ. This why the customer is not always right. There are children of light and children of darkness.
    Source: AVKJV

  164. I completely agree. While the main focus of your organization may be “customer service and everything that is involved with that”, you still need to show loyalty to your employees. The autonomy of the employee should supersede the demands of the patient in most situations.

  165. I worked for a company where the CEO believed this. I don’t work there any more because we disagreed vehemently. While the customer may act like they are not “right” what is most likely needed is a redirect. They may not know what they really want and it is up to us to help them find it. Maybe we don

  166. This is a new perspective I was not aware of. Up to now I was a full adept of ” the saying “the customer is always right” as it’s best outlined by Earl Nightingale in his classic audio program Lead the Field, as a way of setting up and providing customers with the highest quality of services and products available. It’s good to consider this side too.
    Thank you,










  168. It is simply because of our unending attachment to the dollar that this idea remains. Think back to the time before money had much influence on trade. Back in those days, people bargained/bartered for goods using other goods or services as payment. You had to behave, present yourself as trustworthy or honest, and have a decent relationship with the other person you were trading with, else you might lose that business. Good behavior was critical, expected and promoted. Nowadays, people dont have to behave or have merit or honor. They just have to have a pocket full of cash or credit card.

  169. Great article. I think that while many business owners are completely aware of the idea that the customer is always right, they are also inclined to believe that they know their business better than anyone. Good leadership is a key factor in knowing how to make the customer happy but also keep the integrity of the worker in tact.

  170. I think I have figured out the corporate matrix. Its all numbers and the computers installed are the book keepers, time clocks, and guardians of the store. Even the manager is subserviant to the computer and the numbers. Everything in retail is tracked, targeted, and projected with numbers. Labor, shrink, customer satisfaction, profits, losses, sales, gross margins, all of it has a number and the computers keep track of those numbers all day long, everyday of the year. The only thing that cannot be tracked with a number is LOYALTY (between the company and employee) and the employees’ HAPPINESS. These two things have no direct numerical value, therefore, they are essentially non-existant in the retail world. Stock holders dont care about employee satisfaction because theres no way to show a direct link to stock prices. Also, it is fair to say that corp america loves a recession, because the labor force available is cheaper, willing to work harder for less, put up with more abuse, etc. Corp america makes more profits when the labor is cheaper than when the public is richer…think about it!

  171. This was such a wonderful article and I’m so thankful that this stance was adopted by such a credible source, it gives me so much hope that more businesses and corporations will actually be receptive to this truth.

    Obviously “the customer is always right” hasn’t been around forever (just for a little over a century, something I didn’t know until I read this article!) so before that businesses existed and prospered on so many other things. The most important of which (the second that you bring on so much as one other person to work with or for you) is:

    Your employees will MAKE YOU or they will BREAK YOU

    This principal is so basic and so important that we have completely forgotten about its foundation.

    I was feeling inspired, so I wrote about this article on my retail blog, which is from my perspective as someone who as been both a corporate employee as well as a business owner:

    If you feel inclined please check it, I would value your feedback

  172. To those objecting to making the boy remove the Nazi/KKK hat – you have freedom of speech in public forums. An airplane is not public property, it is the private property of the airline that owns it. The airline can tell you what to wear or not wear and if you refuse to comply they can throw you off their plane, just as I can throw you out of my house if you offend me.

  173. This is an example of completely taking something out of context. The phrase, “The customer is always right,” is a business principle, not a rule or a law. It should not pit management against employees, but be a whole business environment where management and employees are partners, working together to bring a good experience to the customer. It doesn’t work if you take it to extremes where unreasonable customers are always being rewarded, but it is extremely profitable in its mission to retain customers who are occasionally disgruntled. Strangely enough, this is seen in Southwest airlines, where I find many stories of how the company has been sensitive to customer complaints, leaving a good lasting impression on the customer and extending to those (like myself) who hear of the “customer first” attitude of the airline. Small concessions (who ever heard of a trip to Paris over a bag a peanuts?!?) can go a long way to good PR and repeat business. Keep the attitude of “customer first,” just lose the pharisaical application.

  174. I’m so happy that I found this article here! It makes me feel so much better that other people realize that this is a problem in the workplace. Just today I was working at my job as a cashier at a grocery store and a customer became verbally abusive to me. I don’t know what was going on with him to make him so aggressive and upset but whatever it is doesn’t give him the right to treat me like garbage. I was trying to explain to him that a product had the wrong price labelled on the display and that’s why the price rang in wrong. Our store policy is that when that happens the customer gets the item for free. Before I could explain that to him he started yelling about me being a “fucking idiot” and a “fucking bitch”. He reduced me to tears with all of the things he was calling me.My manager had to be called and he was escorted out of the store and was told he wasn’t welcome back. He wasn’t even allowed to finish buying his groceries. My manager came to talk to me later and said that shopping at our store is a privilege not a right. I’m happy that I have such supportive people at work.

  175. While I strongly agree that the customer is not always right, I also say that employees and customers are human beings, who are capable of using poor judgement and making errors. So, I prefer to balance it out and say, “Instead of assuming the employee was right or wrong on the spot, take a closer look at the facts of what really happened. Then make the call.” I say that because if employees are allowed to assume they have full backing from their boss regardless of what happened, then some of them may start getting too big for their boots, and that’s just as bad for the company.

    As for the hat incident, I would say, he is welcome to wear whatever he likes, say whatever he likes but he doesn’t have to fly with that particular airliner, and they don’t have to accept him. It’s about mutual respect.

    On the other hand, there are people who take offence at the slightest thing (for example, a word or a phrase that someone says, or even where they come from, their religion, etc), which if acted on in their favour, is ridiculous. Whatever people say or believe, the fact is, we choose how we react to things. So, there needs to be balance, as usual.

  176. This is a great post and I agree with it.

    “The customer is always right” is another way of saying “The guy with the money is always right.” When you look at how things usually work, in many (though not all) cases, someone who works in a certain business has a slightly lower income than people who are regular customers of that business. I couldn’t afford to regularly buy the produce of the organic farm I work on. Walmart employees can barely afford Walmart stuff. (Thankfully many businesses give employees discounts or extras to deal with this.) Add to that the way “the customer is always right” is instilled in both the worker and the customer, so that the customer feels entitled and the worker is trained to treat him as entitled, and you get this very creepy societal thing: people treating service employees like some kind of servant class or worse. If you go over to, there are examples of service employees being told “Oh, so you’re not a real person” by a customer who means “Oh, so you’re not a fellow customer”… and the person shows absolutely no awareness of what she just said.

    On the other side, there’s a phenomenon that also happens: the business *using* a customer service employee to screw the customer. The CSR (or of course salesperson) is trained and given incentives to do things a certain way which the higher-ups know or hope will manipulate the customer into buying something higher-priced. Of course this is the case with telemarketers, but it happens in other situations as well. I remember a phone call with a phone company employee in which I was just trying to get basic no-frills local phone service and the CSR just kept telling me about these different phone plans, each quite complicated and set up in a way that prevented me from comparing the prices and choosing the cheapest. It took quite a long time. But I was not going to yell at the poor lady, I knew it was not by her own choice that she wouldn’t tell me “Oh here, this plan’s our basic cheapest one,” I could tell she was reading from a script. But it sucks, it just does; the people who wrote and enforced that script have put me in a position where I can’t figure out how to get basic cheap service, and her in a position where she is constantly (I’m sure) being yelled at by angry people for something that is not her fault.

    THAT is why *I*’d rather deal with small business. At least the things people are doing are their own decisions or the decisions of people they see face to face. Which usually means they don’t try to jerk you around. In large corporations the field is way too open for people to sit in offices trying to figure out how to squeeze more money out of (to them) faceless people. Like you and me.

  177. Thank you, 1000 time thank you. I’ve been in customer service for nearly 17 years now, and I’ve had many kinds of bosses with the “customers first” attitude. I currently work for a company that has “The customer is always right” as Rule Number One in the employee handbook. It makes work a little scary sometimes.

    This article gives me hope that I’m not alone in believing that treating your employees well, instead of threatening them, will lead to the fantastic customer service that employers want.

  178. I side with this article even before this post. I already posted my comments months ago …

    but one thing …

    this would be even nicer if the article redefines its title to :

    “CUSTOMERS are always right, unreasonable ones are not.”

    To pave way to the idea that there are really are unreasonable customers that is very very bad for any business … and to give credit in turn to those humble customers who may be offended

    In my humble opinion …

    Just like in my computer business … i train my staffs for months to years
    only to be abused and to be embarrassed by unreasonable customers ???

    No way, being computer technical requires time and continuous training … and by all means I will not side with an unreasonable customer feeling know it all …

  179. What an awesome synchronicity, I was just thinking about this the other day, in a slightly different context. When I first started my internet-based business, I caved to “social pressure” to offer refunds in my business. And you know what happened? I got very few refund requests, and the few that came in were never for good reasons. In one case, and uncommitted customer backed out of his commitment, cited my refund policy, and really de-stabilized my business. And not for a good reason, either. It was pure chickening out. Well, I got wise after that, and realized that when you are offering transformational coaching that challenges people’s belief systems and their egos at the deepest possible level, the best thing you can do for yourself AND your client is have an “absolutely no refunds for any reason” policy. This keeps everyone committed, and leads to miraculous results. Too much to explain here, but I definitely revisted the cliche “the customer is always right.” I don’t have employees, but thanks for shedding light on a zillion additional reasons to question the conventional wisdom about this.

  180. Or it might show that the person you’re talking about doesn’t have their Twitter notifications turned on and has no idea that you Tweeted them. Or that the persona in question is so tired of receiving dozens of messages every day from people who are trying to “get” for free and not give anything back that the person has decided to focus their attention on clients and customers who are willing to show some respect by contributing. A different perspective, I know, but one that has been very successful for me, especially in the area of building satisfying win/win relationships with my clients and customers. It was one of the best business decisions I ever made, to no longer give my attention to takers and focus on those willing to commit and give back.

  181. Customers are paying for a service, and they do have the right to get quality service and a quality product. However, sometimes customers are unreasonable, and some store policies, believe it or not, are there for a reason (other store policies are bullshit, however).

    This issue, like pretty much any other human relations issue, is much too large to paint with a single brush.

  182. Actually, the customer is always right. The complainers will always be ‘right’ in their own minds. The line is, ‘Take them seriously, not literally’. So, the company has the right to let the unreasonable ones get served somewhere else.

  183. ” This cultural/moral relativism that somehow Yamulkes and Nazi symbols are the equivalent is patently stupid”

    Or put another way, advocating murder is wrong.

  184. Excellent Article. Being that I work at a place that would prefer us to be robots to each other (basically monotone and unfeeling), and peppy to customers and then wonder why morale is down which leads to lower sales numbers, I find this article spot on.

    I’ve worked in customer service for a few years and I have to say, if management supported policy more and enforced it more, we would be changing the “give me” attitudes of about half or more of the customers we have to deal with. The thing that I hate is that we get in trouble if we don’t try and enforce the policy, then you get the customer all mad and snotty at you, asking for a manager, a manager comes out and tells you to just do it and the customer looks at you like you’re an idiot and he knew he would get his way. Just let us always say yes to the customer and then maybe it wouldn’t be soo bad. I hate the situations where the customer graciously accepts our enforcement of policy, because it’s those people who deserve the exceptions. And talk about standing behind our product? How about turning over our receipt and reading our return policy. If you have a product for six years and it breaks, why should we replace it, when it clearly states on your receipt that we have a 90 day return policy. I don’t care if you’ve only used it twice or you spend tens of thousands at our store (which I seriously doubt), it’s ridiculous to except lifetime warranties on every single product in a store. And for those people who feel we are there to cater to them; I’m not you’re mother, I’m not going to listen to your tantrum because you can’t act like an adult. I would bend over backwards for most customers, but I’m not going to encouraged the awful, rude, and childish behavior a lot of them have. I’m a human being too and just as you deserve respect, if you want me to help you I except respect in return as well.

  185. I really loved this post. I worked as a coffee shop cashier one summer year in college and it was the worst job I’ve had. I hated going to work everyday because I was forced to deal with nasty customers and knew that if I tried to defend myself or a supervisor tried to do anything, we’d lose the customer, which seemed to be much more important to the boss than the well being of his employees. Thanks for the pick-me-up article, Alex!

  186. Businesses cling to this tag line or business principle for years because they want to encourage customers to come and support their business. But sometimes, customers complains because they really thought that they can always do things their way.

  187. Interesting and important points made – similar topic to the issue of turning away work, goes against all instincts but often necessary in law, where an experienced lawyer can spot a trouble client a mile away !

  188. Pingback: Arbejdsgl
  189. “Big chain companies let customers sexually harass their employees.” Uh, that is ILLEGAL per “Sexual Harassment”. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    “The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.”

    If you are being sexually harassed by customers and your employer allows it report them BOTH to the EEOC.

  190. Farrington, Frank (1915) “Is the Customer Always Right?” Merck Report, Volume 24 pg 134-135 made many of the same points as this article. So the idea that there are customers who will abuse the system has been around nearly as long as the axiom has.

  191. i strongly hold that customer is not always right. Rather customer is always a customer: one other important party to a business.

  192. there is a difference between a legitimate issue and a complaint. If there is an issue which can be addressed and an improvement made, then the customer has a valued input and should be heeded. If it is a complaint simply because the customer doesn’t like something, go somewhere else that you do like! that is why there is chocolate and vanilla ice cream. You can choose to go elsewhere and find something you do like.

  193. My take.

    1. Choose your customers. If you cannot choose them, show them that you respect yourself and your people. You will not allow people to put you down simple because they have money. Your provide them service. You sometimes make mistakes, but you are there passionately serving them.

    2. Your people are your first customers. Make them happy always. Give them reasons to smile. Do not place the lust for profit before your people.

    3. You are the expert. The customer is almost always wrong. You know that. You are a customer too. You know that sometimes you are so emotional about your rights, although you know that you do not completely see the big picture. You do not have to tell customers that they are wrong, but try harder to educate them.

    Jef Menguin |

  194. Oh how I love this! I love my company and I love my co-workers but management just seems to side with customers just to shut them up. When we close we are not really closed. We have to remain available until we leave. If it is an hour after our signs say we’re closed and a customer wants us to turn our equipment back on to serve them they will go up front, complain to a manager, and that manager will come back with an exasperated “Just give them what they want.”
    These managers know where WE are coming from. They are on our side. But company policy requires us to smooch that sphincter.
    I was even assaulted once and company policy was a non-violence approach so I had to let the customer hit me. (I hit back. If he’s a threat I’m not taking injury because company policy is afraid of a lawsuit)
    Fortunately the in store management sided with me and I got off with a “Don’t do that. If you can just run away.”
    “Both my ankles are fuzed completely immobile. Running isn’t exactly something I do…”

  195. how good is to be a freelancer and have the possibility to anyway say how wrong the customer is ^_^. Thanks for the article!

  196. I wholeheartedly agree with this article. I have been in a customer service related role for a very long time, and just yesterday encountered, for the fifth time in as many weeks, one of our worst clients. He is blatantly rude, both in person, and in writing (we use email to accomplish business, at times). The owner of our business constantly sides with this person, citing how much money he spends with us (we have other clients who spend much more, and are always pleasant to deal with). Frankly, no amount of money is worth the abuse I have taken from this individual, especially when the owner of the company refuses to defend his employees when this particular client is on the rampage. I was actually told yesterday, in front of this client, that “the customer is always right”. Even when I showed our owner the most recent and unprovoked nasty email I had been sent by this individual, he defended the clown. Unreal.

    When business owners value the almighty dollar above loyal employees there is a serious problem, IMHO. It results in employees losing respect for those who are supposed to be in leadership roles in any agency/company. It really does make it more difficult to do one’s job.

    So, my solution to this problematic client (and any other who may decide to behave in the same manner): After being as polite as humanly possible with this individual for months on end, I refuse to service his account from now on. I have told the owner of our company that he can handle every aspect of this account, since he is so willing to tolerate and defend this clients verbally abusive behavior. He can handle all of his needs from start to finish. I refuse any and all contact with this client, until he can decide to behave like a mature adult. I have put up with it for too long. For me, it boils down to respect. You either have it or you don’t. And I respect myself too much to be verbally abused by anyone, for any reason, even if my boss does not.

    I think part of the reason customers/clients think they can behave this way is the entitlement mentality that so many people have developed. Everyone seems to think they are entitled to something more and, at least in my industry, want something for nothing. It never ceases to amaze me the lengths people will go to to (i.e. verbally assaulting people) get a “better deal”, and/or weasel their way out of paying for something they had previously agreed to, once services are rendered. And it’s never because they are unhappy with the services provided, but because they just don’t want to pay. They simply want a better deal.

    Seriously considering printing this article and putting it on the boss-man’s desk.

  197. I completely agree with this! “Regular” customers who constantly demand free things and refunds and stress out the employees should not be valued, at least from the perspective of a lowly, uneducated customer service employee. I’m aware that there is probably more to the story, of which I’m ignorant, but on the surface, a customer or group of customers who complain about things with the sole intention to receive discounts results in a loss of profits. Employees are forced to spend less time and energy into pleasing honest customers, who will then be less likely to return after not experiencing outstanding service. Of course, on the other hand, I think it’s a better mindset for the general employee to believe that the customer is always right. Let the manager/business owner decide when that is not the case. Everyone’s opinion of “right” and “wrong” might differ, and it’s important for a service employee to always be dedicated to customer satisfaction. Sometimes, when I’m PMSing or otherwise in a bad mood, even the smallest things guests do get on my last damn nerve. If I didn’t have “the customer is always right” on the brain, I’d probably treat them very poorly… as inhumane as it sounds, knowing that your opinion means absolutely nothing makes it a lot easier to put your own emotions on the backburner, which, in turn, benefits the customer.

  198. Totally agree, the customer is very rarely right. Kudos to all the manager and business runners who have commented and say they won’t put up with customers who abuse staff. I’ve worked in retail for 7 years and let me tell you they are not right. I have dealt with the absolute scum of the earth and you’re just supposed to take it and it’s beyond a joke that company’s treat their staff like that. When they train you to say no to something then as soon as a customer kicks up a stink the managers go over you and say yes so you look like a idiot. It certainly does make staff unhappy and not care. Trust me. I couldn’t care less about good service anymore and frankly I don’t even care if I get fired one day coz of it, I am not being abused by some prick who comes in ready to treat someone like that so they can get their discount or thing for free, it’s absolutelty disgusting that in this day and age customers know all they have to do to get what they want is be abusive to the staff.

  199. This saying has merit and is important if you want to have customers, or a business that doesn’t fail.
    Of course some people abuse it but in general the meaning of this policy relates to the fact that the employee should not argue or try to prove themselves right with a customer. Many employees in the UK take the customer relationship personally. They don’t understand that they are the face of the business and should be respectful if they want customers to return.
    To employee who have customers… Don’t accept abuse… But don’t deliver abuse or be rude to customers either… Or you’ll soon be looking for another job.

  200. I agree with this 100%. I can understand what “the customer is always right” is supposed to achieve but is should be “the good customers are right most of the time”. Some “customers” as just time wasters or worse. Is the customer right if they demand your product/service for free for no good reason? The theory that “the customer is always right” I think has been proven WRONG! Great posts!

  201. I can certainly tell you from hard experience that the customer is not always right. Sometimes, the customer is a downright, rotten liar. And that’s putting it angelically.

    Today was my last day on the job as a donut maker at a local grocery store. (I left of my own accord, having given my notice of two weeks.)
    When I came in for work this evening, I wasn’t expecting to have my boss confront me with a small piece of metal. He asked me, “What do you make of this?”

    I said it looked like something that had come off a machine. Confused about why he seemed so stern, I asked if a piece of equipment had broken. I thought, great, my last day and I’m finding out I broke something expensive.

    He said, no. “A customer said she found this in her donut.”

    I was floored. I practically snatched the piece of metal out of his hand, trying to wrap my mind around what he was saying. I had never seen anything like it, and I have never seen any piece like it inside, or on, any of our equipment.

    Stunned, I told him I would carefully look over the machinery to see if anything had broken off. I didn’t understand how such a thing could happen. He was a little upset by the incident, of course, but he never accused me of anything. (Clue #1: I should have realized that he wasn’t raging mad, or sending me home, or threatening to fire me on the spot, last day regardless.)

    I have always had a good record of work with the store. Heck, just the other day, one of the customer service managers came up to me and said, “I’m sorry you’re leaving. You’re probably the best donut maker we’ve had in the past three years.”

    I checked everything as thoroughly as I could without mechanical knowledge. Everything was intact. Furthermore, the piece of metal I had been shown was rusty. And yet, for food safety reasons, we do not use water or any liquid cleaners on our machinery. (Clue #2.) Something was up with this lady’s claim, but I was far too upset to see it.

    I assumed she had to be telling the truth. Still, it didn’t make sense. All the donuts at the store are made by hand, and the dough is also flattened by hand before being rolled out. It’s rolled 1 cm thick, and the piece of metal was much bigger than that. It would have stuck out of the dough.

    I have been making donuts for a while now, and it’s easy to spot when the dough isn’t flat. Sometimes it bunches up on itself, but I know how to spot inconsistencies and lumps. These kinds of flaws are easily detectable.

    In addition, there are several quality checks throughout the whole process. After the donuts are cut, I place each one, by hand, on a screen before frying. Every donut gets individual inspection and scrutiny.

    How any piece of metal as sizeable as the one I had been shown made it into a donut — assuming the customer was telling the truth, as I thought she must be — was beyond my understanding.

    I gave the customer the benefit of the doubt. I was torn up the whole night, believing I had failed in my job role right at the very end. I believed I had nearly caused serious medical issues for a customer, and I believed I had earned the company a possible lawsuit.

    I wrote a letter in my own defense. I did not admit any guilt or make any apologies. All I could say was, I didn’t understand how such a thing could happen. I was totally dumbfounded.

    On the same night, I ran into the night manager (a different person than the one who had showed me the piece of metal). I immediately came out and told him what happened. He told me he already knew about the incident, but he seemed very laid back about the whole thing. He was surprised (and even a little amused, it seemed) that I was so upset about what happened. Apparently, he told me that none of the managers believed I was at fault.

    He said that when he looked at the piece of metal, he didn’t believe something like that would originate from our bakery. He also said that the manager who had confronted me earlier agreed with him on this point. I told him that even if the metal had gotten into the donut by some freak chance, I take food safety seriously and, word for word, I stand by my work.

    Then he told me what I should have realized, or at least stopped to consider, the whole time: “Customers lie all the time about finding stuff in their food. They just want freebies.”

    A customer who genuinely finds a piece of metal in her donut will raise hell, make complaints on the corporate level, “go to the press”, threaten to sue, etc. A customer who lied and put a rusty piece of metal in a donut HERSELF will walk away happily with the free handout she was seeking in the first place, without another complaint. Take a guess which kind of customer this lady was.

    Sometimes the customer is not just wrong. Sometimes the customer is a thieving, conniving, low-life piece of scum who doesn’t care about making a scene that will call into question the work record of an employee. Or about getting this employee into trouble. Or about making the last eight hours of this employee’s work an exercise in self-doubt, a complete nightmare — as long as it means she can walk away with her handout.

    And, you know, whatever employees were nearby when she made this complaint will now ignite the store’s gossip chain. A few of them already know I gave my notice of leaving two weeks ago, but the rest will assume I was fired over this. The managers know better, but among the rest, there goes my good name. And it’s a small town.

    So thanks. Thanks a lot, lady.

  202. I like the article. Here is a neat reversal of sorts, and since this thread has been on for years, I am not apologizing for changing the subject matter a bit.

    I bought an HP multi-function copy, fax, printer many years ago. It sat in a box for months before I opened it to start to utilize it. It worked for a week, then died. So I contacted HP, many times, many different departments. I was basically told to go pound sand each time. I was purple-faced pissed off. Finally, I took a step back from the situation, and remembered – because they are one of those big companies where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing – I still had terms with them, as in, I didn’t have to spend dime one when I order, and they bill me 10 days after the product is received. I ordered the same machine. When it arrived, I took it out of the box, used it for a couple weeks and informed my accountant not to pay the bill until she heard from me.

    When I was satisfied that it was running the way it was supposed to, I recontacted HP. I told them that my problem had been resolved, but know they had a problem. I have 2 of their machines and have no intention of paying for the new one, but that they could have their out of the box week old machine back if they wanted to pay for shipping it to them.

    Not only did they change their tone, but gave me a $100 credit, which I used for ink. I have never purchased a unit from HP again.

  203. Here is a new twist. A customer claiming to be a secret shopper in an effort to get their way. Genuine secret shoppers are NEVER to reveal that they are secret shoppers (it contaminates the results and they don’t get paid) and have a contract to this effect.

    Someone claiming this doesn’t realize they have just set themselves up for a fall. If they really are a secret shopper then they just demonstrated they can’t keep their word regarding a contract and if they aren’t then they just LIED. Catch 22.

  204. I work for a very large Bank. I lost count on how many times rude customers will insist that their “other” bank doesn’t ask for this or that (ID) or the “other” bank doesn’t question a transaction. Today I called a client who had questions regarding online banking on a business account. The account in question was set up as “Two to Sign” which means that two people have to sign for any withdrawals as there are several persons on the account. Makes sense…. right? The woman that I called could not fathom why she could not have online banking for this account since she was the Treasurer . I tried my best to explain that how could the other signing authorities properly monitor the account activity if she has online banking access? What’s stopping her from transferring funds via online to her own personal account? She kept citing that her “other” bank allows her and her husband on their joint account both access. I tried to explain how a personal account with two owners is different than a business account with multiple owners but she was having none of it. After we finished our conversation, she had the nerve to write an email to my Manager about how “rude” I was and the terrible customer service she received, even though I was polite throughout the phone call and was basically just citing bank regulations regarding business accounts and multiple signing authorities. The woman was impossible. So, yeah, let’s just give you a bank card and online access to the business account of which there are multiple authorities and let you go to town. Then I wonder what might happen when someone else who is a signing authority questions certain transactions? Will they contact you? Or will they contact the bank for giving you online access? Hmmm….. who would be responsible? Also, here’s a tip. Just because you other bank let’s compliance slide does not mean all banks do.

  205. I’ve worked enough in retail and customer service to know that MOST customers are alright. However there is always those few who are .. well there is no polite way to put it. Those customers are bad for business as they take away from the experience of the rest. One rude loud customer can easily ruin the experience for several others. Any decent business can do without those. I’ve only worked with one company who believed the customer was always right. However there was a time at that company they agreed the customer is not always right.

  206. Thank you for posting! So glad this mantra is changing. For years I watched employees as well as myself become quite miserable behind difficult customers.

  207. For a (thankfully!) brief period, I worked for a company which stocks magazines at stores (grocery, pharmacy, etc.).
    The company delivered the new editions in plastic totes, we’d swap them for the old editions, the company would pick up the totes full of old ones.
    Pretty simple, right?
    Some locations had a couple dozen totes every week, some only 2 or 3.

    One afternoon I was in a small mega-chain drugstore and the manager went nuts. He didn’t like where I’d put some magazines, so he yanked them off the display & threw them on the floor! (While yelling at me.)
    I felt very threatened.

    I finished my work, left his mess for him to clean up, and left. (Should have simply walked out in the middle, called police, then my boss.)
    Called my company, told them what happened, told them I would not be going back there.
    While I don’t think they cancelled that location, I did hear not too long after that the manager had been fired. Nobody ever apologized to me though.

  208. And one holiday season when I worked for a mega-chain fabric retailer, there were so many rude, obnoxious, abusive customers that I would have liked to remove from the store, but had to smile & be nice to.

    The worst I was allowed to do was hand them off to a manager.
    Seriously, talking down to the person trying to help you, calling them names, insulting them… you think this will bring better service?

    (Of course, we were all paid barely over minimum wage, and most only got a few hours a week so the company wouldn’t have to give up breaks or lunches, let alone health care. That’s also ensuring they don’t get or keep the best people.)

  209. The fact is that sometimes the customer is just plain wrong. I work in two healthcare jobs, one as a licensed massage therapist, and one as a doctor’s administrative assistant.

    Sometimes clients at the spa show up anywhere from 20-60 minutes late for their appointments and still expect to be taken care of, even if we have other clients, or we’re closing. Sometimes, we have to turn clients away for safety or legal reasons. For example, we are not allowed to massage a woman in her first trimester of pregnancy, and it is illegal for us to massage a minor without a parent on the premises. I have had to refuse a hot stone massage to a client with severe nerve damage who could not tell the difference between hot and cold. Then there are the clients who want a deep tissue massage but don’t want to pay the extra ten dollars, and the pregnant women who insist they “do not need” a prenatal massage, and they just want a regular massage with firm pressure. Even though we explain again and again that we have to treat her on her side, and we cannot use deep pressure because she is still pregnant, she still insists that she should get her way.

    Obviously, I get more of that at the spa then I do at the doctor’s office, but I still get yelled at by patients who do not understand their insurance and take it out on us, or patients who are upset that we are not in a particular location on the day they want us to be, or that the practice only has one doctor. I even had one patient yell at me because I had to reschedule her appointment after the doctor’s wife passed away.

    The problem with “the customer is always right” is that it has been taken much too far for much too long.

  210. There is a website called and I have been reading that for years — stories from employees that are horrendous, and employers who side (for the greater part) with the customer. I absolutely agree that it is absurd to reward bad behavior by giving in to loud and abusive customers, and by doing so, you absolutely devalue your employees. You teach people how to treat you, and if you allow them to throw tantrums, curse, and even in some cases strike your employees and reward them with free stuff, then they will continue to do it again and again, and step up their game. “The customer is always right” is, in my opinion, the absolute worst policy any business can adopt.

  211. Customers are not always right, like the ones going in stores stealing, or just angry for no reason. But when a customer choices to spend money with any company which is paying the pay checks and salaries of all who work at that company and the customer is upset about poor attitudes or quality customer service from employees or managers at that company, they have a right to be upset. The customers have a right to their grievance. As obnoxious as the hat was, yes his freedom of speech and expression was violated. Just as it’s a First Amendment Right to a grievance. Some customers really put up with a lot of nonsense after spending their money only to get bad products along with bad service. They have a right to be angry. Teachers don’t count, you are getting paid by tax payers to do a job, and many teachers are rude, decietful, manipulative and provoking in dealing with people’s children and need not to be teaching. Students (children or adults) aren’t products or goods to even compare to this. For the angry customers who have a right to be angry, retention in a company exists for a reason which is to find resolutions. If your employees or companies messed up, fix it, make it right and apologize. For the customers who are just obnoxiously behaving for no reason, no one should have to deal with that. Abuse goes to ways, from the company and employees abusing their power and authority after taking a customer’s money and not caring about if the customer is happy or not with service and product purchased. Also, with customers just being a butt-hole for no reason. Customers come first, because their money pays your paychecks, without them there would be no company or employee to hire. I have done customer service 15 years now in all areas just about and had very few customers who wasn’t happy with my service.

  212. The woman who bought from us now emails us daily asking the same questions and unreasonable questions a la “are we there yet?” and even that she’s b een provided all the necessary shipping info, but she keeps on asking for it again and again, stating that her goods should have shipped by FEDEX while she only paid $6 for regular mail and she knows that, but she lovbes this kind of treatment of businesses, since she considers her goods are now late to arrive. We let her know it is her first and last order with us.

    American consumers are out of control and we are considering adding extra handling charges and even “whimsical abuse and unfair chargeback insurance” to all orders shipped to the United States. We will credit or discount those charges to our best behaving US American customers.

    We no longer provide affordable shipping methods, such as Ground, Air Mail and Registered mail, as hey are too slow and ship everything to the US via FDEDEX or EMS. Regsitered mail has become a laughing matter as the USPS returns every 3rd to 5th mail to us undelivered and a lot gets lost (stolen), damaged and simply ends up as cnsumer fraud since there is no more tracking porovided inside of North America for Registered mail. We used to apply these kind of methods, fees and charges when shipping to so-called Third World countries.

    Such arrogance from all those whimsical customers who act as if we are their slaves and they are the kings and princesses, spending $20 or $50 and demand Royal Service as if they spent $1M and of course there is ever-present threat of unfair, unjust chargebacks caused by impatience, and even outright racqueteering.

  213. The customer is always right translates into “we will take anyone’s money”. This attitude has created an entitlement culture for customers. This article should also remind us as consumers to be kind. For poor customers we would do the minimum as where the kind ones we went beyond.
    I tend not to get upset with those who work the minimum wage jobs. Often the training isn’t there sometimes due to employee turnover. There are customers who make it a practice to harass or quiz workers.
    I got this link from a developer who offers free lifetime upgrades and their staff is always on their forums. The top guy is very good dealing with online communication which is even less civil. They often turn enemies into friends. Which is really a skill that I think some have it some don’t.

  214. To anyone who would defend the Nazi hat…. it’s a symbol of hatred and violence against one specific set of people. Comparing it to a turban is absolutely the wrong comparison. It’s more like if the hat said “f*** black people” or “i hate japanese people”. It’s not a cultural/religious accessory like a turban might be – it’s a declaration that you’re racist and violent, and/or sympathize with Nazis who are racist and violent.

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