“The Customer Is Not Always Right” – follow-up

My article on why “The Customer is Always Right” is wrong has generated an amazing amount of attention. It’s been read by 100,000s of people and been mentioned all over the internet.

WallchartCall Center Magazine in the UK liked it so much that they turned it into a wall chart that is waaaaay more attractive than my original post. Download it here.

But most of all the article gets a LOT of great comments. Here are some of my favorites.

Chris wrote:

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.

That’s it in a nutshell.

Grant wrote:

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 :)


I’ve told Grant that I take full credit for him getting the job and given him an account number where he can deposit 10% of his first year’s salary :o)

Marie wrote:

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… 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… Later, he emailed a complaint to the corporate office stating how rude and unprofessional she had been…

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.

SueBob writes:

I worked at a print shop where my manager would occasionally fire customers. In four years, I think it was 3 people. He told one person, “I won’t have you abuse my employee.”

I would have crawled through broken glass for him. It was one of the best employment experiences of my life.

These comments show that there are many companies out there that realize that putting the employees first actually results in better customer service. The formula is simple: Happy employees = happy customers.

But of course not everyone gets it. Yet.

Anonymous writes:

I work in a call center and showed this article to my boss. I’m told that senior managers view the ideas presented here as “silly.” Is it any wonder employees think our company is out to get them?

Customers are allowed to verbally abuse our employees and this is supposed to be a sign of great customer service. All the while, lower level managers are directed to keep turnover down. The company doesn’t understand that people are not satisfied in a job where the company supports abuse towards them.

Get a clue.


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8 thoughts on ““The Customer Is Not Always Right” – follow-up”

  1. The larger issue is the strength and commitment of a company’s vision. With a clear purpose for existence, a business does not have to put its employees in the position of “taking sides.” If Southwest Airlines, one of your examples, exists to get people safely and cheaply to their destination, Ms. Crabapple’s discontent may be acknowledged but deferred to the company’s mission. My favorite example of late is that restaurant chain who had a mission that caused them to pull a tv reality show’s products. With customer outcry, however, the mission they had days earlier cited as their reason for removing the merchandise from shelves went right out the window. That lack of integrity, in my opinion, is where employees and customers lose heart.

  2. Although I agree in principle with the point that the customer is not always right I don’t think it is “new” to say that company employees should not have to take abuse. This has been the situation for a long time and I think people are more then aware of this.

    In fact I think it has been taken to the extreme in some circumstances, for example. If you go to the train station there is a notice on the wall saying simply that “abuse of our employees will not be tolerated, it goes on to say something along the lines of “any abuse will be reported to the police”. So, do I really have to read a notice? It is very unwelcoming and not a nice thing to read and I think it is unnecessary as it is common sense. What would be a better notice is to say “we welcome any comments or complaints as we see this as an opportunity to improve our service to you. We will extend professional courtesy to you at all times and all we ask is that you do the same, thank you.”

    Also, people do get agitated some times when they are genuinely not receiving a good service and as long as the conversation does not develop into personal abuse I see no reason why the customer cannot take a firmer stance. I have had 2 instances where my complaint has not been dealt with correctly. One example is I made a complaint on the telephone using a firm tone and was pushed back with the person saying “I do not have to listen to this, if it continues i will hang up the phone.” Now to be clear I was not abusive, I never am and there were no personal remarks at all, the simple fact was she was dealing with was a difficult call with a legitimate complaint but didn’t want to deal with it anymore.

    So, I might agree with this all in principle but it is a fine line and it takes very careful training of the staff to not use this a cop out in dealing with unhappy people with legitimate complaints. Complaints will happen, it is unavoidable but I believe the majority of people making complaints are not abusive, they are simply voicing their unhappiness.

    If the person complaining is abusive then yes of course it is not acceptable but has it really ever been the case where it was?

  3. I think there is a difference between customers who have legitimate complaints/issues about either a product or a service that was provided and customers who are complaining for the sake of complaining and/or merely trying to “get their way” for no real reason, other than they think they are entitled.

    Even so, customers with legitimate complaints should understand that it’s all about how they (the customer) approach the situation. A little kindness goes a long way, and will make customer service reps/managers, etc. more inclined to assist them in resolving their issue. The old adage “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” comes to mind.

    I have had to deal with many a client/customer in my time on this planet, and I have learned that there are some who, no matter what you say or do, or how polite and accommodating you are, will never be happy with the service they are provided. They are just bent on being rude and inconsiderate, and there is nothing you can do to change them. I call them “toxic”. I have one client who is so demanding that I have refused to service his account, because he is one of those people who will never be happy – not unless you are groveling at his feet when he calls or comes in. He expects us to jump through hoops to accommodate what he wants, when he wants it, (which is always immediately or yesterday) regardless of whether or not his demands are realistic. He is argumentative, to the point of being verbally abusive. He can’t seem to realize that if he could tone his temper down, be less demanding, be less argumentative, be polite and friendly and be more understanding, as well as more realistic, in his approach, things would go much easier for him when his account needs servicing.

    I had a long conversation with the owner of our business yesterday, about this particular client, and informed him that I don’t appreciate his (the client’s) attitude, and that I don’t appreciate him (the owner) allowing this person to behave in this manner, because it tells the client that his behavior is okay. That it is acceptable. It tells the client that he (the owner) values money over people, and that it is okay to verbally abuse his employees. I told him that I need to know he “has my back” when it comes to dealing with this person, or there will continue to be issues. I am not sure if my boss understood exactly what I was saying, or not, (he said he does, so we’ll see) but I have at least let my boss know where I stand, and that I will not tolerate abusive behavior from our clients.

    Sometimes you have to take a stand for yourself, when faced with ugly people. You can “kill them with kindness” and turn the other cheek all day, but at some point you have to draw a line, and say enough is enough.

  4. It’s an interesting point you make. I agree there are those people who just want everyone to jump through hoops and no matter what you do it is not good enough and they are always complaining and wanting more from you. In my experience there is always a way to deal with these people effectively.

    I think in these circumstances there is an education process required for the customer. Having a meeting with the customer to discuss his account and go through very clearly the process and timelines for the business can take away any ambiguity on how long it takes to deliver your product to them. So next time the customer calls to order from you, you simply quote your internal process timelines as discussed and say your order will be delivered on X date. If the customer is not happy with that you don’t take the order, simple. That way you effectively get the customer to sack himself. If the customer is continuing to scream and shout you politely end the conversation.

    You may find that although this customer is difficult he may actually rate you and your company very highly but he is misguided in thinking that is his job to scream at you as a buyer because he is the customer. I have worked with many bluechip companies and been faced with difficult and arrogant buying Managers and Directors. Quite often buyers understand the importance of the financials but lack the key skills in building relationships with suppliers. I have always dealt with them the same way, be clear on the service you are offering, map it out, implement a critical path for everything you have agreed to do. After which you obviously have to keep them updated and informed of progress. If the customer is not happy at the beginning with those timelines (assuming that they are competitive) then again the customer doesn’t order and simply sacks himself.

    As I stated before though, if the customers is abusive then this should not be tolerated full stop. No one should have to deal with that I am not condoning that kind of behavior.

    But personally I find a customer who is difficult and unreasonably demanding can more often then not be resolved with presenting a clear Service level that your business is prepared to commit to.

    I think the key point here is, get the customer to sack himself and then you are always sure of doing the right thing.

  5. Finely, some like minded people. I’ve owned a camp ground for 17 years. Now picture adding large quantities of alcohol and other mind altering drugs to the mix. I just wish I could show more gratitude to my good customers. I’ve fired a large number of bad ones and many with less than polite words. Although it brings me no satisfaction, I tend to treat others as they treat me, my family, staff, and property. At the end of the day though, one thing we must all realize is that we are in an ever changing world and at the moment it is getting tougher for business owners. More people with less respect and anarchistic and self serving attitudes seek our products and services. We all know what the best thing to do is, but giving advice is a whole lot easier than remembering it in a bad situation . Good luck to one and all we’ll be needing it!

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