The Customer Is Always Right, Right? Wrong…

June 12, 2018


So, let’s get this straight. You’ve told your employees that no matter what the customer does, no matter how rude, unreasonable and petty they might be, that they are to treat that customer as through they’re the best one you have? You’ve sent a clear signal to your staff that under no circumstances is your loyalty and concern with them – your faithful and diligent employees – but that you only care about the customer and that your desire is that employees take all the abuse and mistreatment a customer can dish out, and do it with a smile on their face?

And you think THAT is the formula for great customer service?  Think again.

Let’s use as an example an anecdote I once heard about a Southwest Airlines passenger who consistently shared her displeasure with the fact that they didn’t have assigned seats, nor a first class cabin, that she hated their boarding procedure, the flight attendant’s uniforms and the casual atmosphere aboard the plane. After a series of complaint letters from the same passenger, Southwest’s customer relations department “kicked it upstairs” and the file made it all the way to the CEO’s desk. When they received the file back a few days later, they were surprised to find a copy of a hand-written note from CEO Herb Kelleher to the customer:

The note simply said “Dear Mrs. Smith, We will miss you.  Herb.”

Now, is that a true story? Who knows? But who cares? The fact of the matter is that it sounds like something an intelligent CEO of a major corporation should and would have the presence of mind to do in such a circumstance. The phrase “The Customer Is Always Right” was originated by Selfridge’s Department Store in London in the early 1900’s. To this day it is used by companies to try and convince customers that they will receive great service, and to promote a high level of customer service from employees. But an increasing number of businesses are moving away from that mantra, because they’ve learned that in fact what it does is decrease the level of customer service, and customer satisfaction. It causes problems on the “front line” by lowering employee morale when they are forced to deal pleasantly with customers who are determined to intentionally cause problems. It also serves to give those intentional troublemakers an unfair advantage over your staff, and in the process lowers both the effort and the outcome of your employees’ customer service efforts towards other customers.

So, “The Customer Is Always Right” is flat out wrong.

We all know our businesses, and our employees, and we know from time to time we’re going to have customer satisfaction issues. Dealing with upset customers is a challenge every company faces from time to time. But whether you’re a huge airline or a small landscaping company, you should be able to identify a problem customer who is going out of their way to irritate your staff and cause trouble. And just like the CEO of a major corporation, you should have the wherewithal to simply say “thank you and goodbye” to them and the headaches they bring. Failing to do so sends the absolute wrong signal to your staff, and will inevitably lead to a diminished level of customer service with your better customers — the ones you really want to keep happy. As for the rest, the intentional troublemakers and habitual complainers…have the courage and conviction to cut them loose, politely, because you’re truly better off without them.


For more information or to discuss your particular needs in this area with an
expert business consultant, please contact me and schedule a
complimentary initial telephone consultation where
we’ll provide a customized solution for your business.

Breakout Consulting, LLC
Dearborn, MI   San Diego, CA