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Don Burleson Blog 







The customer is always right is wrong?

Because you have the right to my opinion

By Don Burleson

This fun blog entry "why the customer is always right is bad", we see a insightful challenge to this age-old tautology.  According to the article 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 this thoughtful articles makes the point that it no longer applies to today's business environment.

The article notes these reasons why "the customer is always right" is the wrong approach and makes some very convincing arguments against giving the customer absolute authority:

  • It makes employees unhappy

  • It gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage

  • Some customers are bad for business

  • It results in worse customer service

  • Some customers are just plain wrong

My experiences in customer management

As an MBA I spent several years studying effective business practices and I must admit that I was always an advocate of "the customer is always right", and we were taught that it's always cheaper to retain a customer than it is to find a new customer.  Goodwill is a major factor, and there has been many-a-time when I've bent over backwards to please an upset customer?  The core customer care issue is simple: How far should you take "the customer is always right"? 

When you spend huge amounts on advertising just to attract customers it seems like an unnatural act to fire them, but sometimes it is the right thing to do.  Sometimes a "bad customer" is just not worth the trouble:

  • Dumb Requests - Back in the early days of the web I helped a fellow design a web site.  When the topic of graphics came up, be pointed to his wife's gaudy broach and said that he wanted an image of her jewelry as his home page image because he really liked the outrageous hunk of costume jewelry.  It looked really stupid, bet hey "the customer is always right", so I implemented the mess, where you hovered over the images to get his sub-pages.  The customer was delighted, but he shortly went bankrupt.

  • Unreasonable Customers - The above articles notes that "the customer is always right" when some shumck wants a free trip to Paris because the airline ran out of peanuts, and I see unreasonable customers all the time.  Many customer don't understand the limits of technology and I'm constantly getting requests for systems that are only possible in science fiction.

  • Customers with a Hitler complex - Over the years I've witnessed loads of otherwise nice people who go crazy when put in a position of authority (like the kind they get when the customer is always right).  I've seen people shriek at waitresses and abuse folks at airline counters, often simply because "they can".  Personally, I think that these people feel powerless inside and take it out on those who serve them. 

Companies crack-down on bad customers

Anyone who has ever been in the service industry knows that some customers are just plain evil, absurdly stupid and stubborn. 

  • Best Buy has made a bad customer list, refusing to sell to people with a high rate of returns.

  • Filenes - Filene's banned two sisters from all 21 of its stores last year after the clothing chain's corporate parent decided they had returned too many items and complained too often about service.

  • Fry's - I?ve never been to Fry's, but numerous articles say that they detain customers at the door and search their shopping bags, checking items against the receipts. (I can't believe that this is true because in most states it's against the law to detain a customer without formally accusing them of shoplifting).  Wow, just look at some of the customer complaints at Fry's sucks and about bad customer care at Fry's.

Firing your unprofitable customers

Sometime in our zeal to give good customer service we loose track of the bottom line, especially when customers make unreasonable demands.  The trick to firing customers is not to make them excessively angry. 

The old adage ?a customer who gets good service will tell one person yet a customer who gets bad service will tell 10 people?.  Just take a look at the independent complaint site "Untied" for United Airlines.  When you decide that a customer is always wrong, you also risk complaints, and companies with a poor record of customer care are given ?unsatisfactory? ratings by the BBB.


The "customer is always right" books:

Angel Customers & Demon Customers

"The Customer Comes Second"



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