The Customer (Isn’t Always Right)

I’m sure everyone reading this is familiar with the 19th century expression, “The customer is always right.” I’m sure many of you have even used it at one point or another. The idea was actually fairly innovative for it’s time. When Harry Gordon Selfridge or Marshall Field (depending on who you ask, history is not completely clear on this) first came up with the quote and its associated business practices (unconditional refunds, for example), the business world was operating under the principle of caveat emptor (buyer beware). So the practice of always giving the customer what they wanted was a new idea, one that sparked a revolution in customer service that led to much of the standards of today.

So needless to say, I’m absolutely sure everyone reading this has heard it. I’m also just as sure that everyone reading this who has ever worked at length in a customer service position is well aware of the fact that this saying is incredibly false. You should absolutely make every possible effort to make your customers happy (and in fact, doing so is a part of quality customer service), but at the end of the day, you have to do what’s right for your business. As cold as it may sound, you hear to make money, not friends (though the two are not mutually exclusive).

Now that does not by any means you should adopt the position of the cold, heartless corporation with no regard for the wants and needs of your customers. Far from it. As I said (and will keep saying, as it’s extremely important), you should do everything in your power to keep your clients happy, so that they keep coming back. But you have to draw the line somewhere. Far too many people think that “the customer is always right” is an infallible law of the universe, carte blanche to treat you (and your business) like servants to their every whim. And that is absolutely 100% not the case. This belief is right up there with walking into an electronics retailer, walking out with a television, and then when you’re invariably stopped by loss prevention officers telling them, “Oh, I don’t need to pay for this.” Pretty ridiculous, right? But no less ridiculous than the idea that you should bend over backwards to please them, potentially putting your income, and your business, in jeopardy.

In a way, this particular type of customer is not unlike a spoiled child, who believes that the entire world revolves around them. To continue that metaphor, think of yourself as a parent. And as with parenting, one should try to fix the issue to the best of your ability, but be willing to take a hard line stance if necessary. The proverbial carrot and the stick (please note I am in no way endorsing the use of a stick in the discipline of a child, that’s abuse).

So friends, while the customer service standards set forth by Selfridge and/or Field are the gold standard to which you should hold yourselves, in the interest of maintaining the growth of your Personal Independent Earnings there will come times when you will have to say no, the customer is not right. And that’s okay. Nobody’s right all of the time, right?

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