I’m sure you’ve heard these oft-quoted words from Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of the department store that bears his name.
And how often have you thought of those words and cringed when the customer you are with has said something you know is the wrong side of wrong?
Alexander Kjerulf is an independent writer and an expert on workplace happiness.
He states that there are times when a customer isn’t right, and it will cause issues if we believe in this adage that they are always right.
In fact, Kjerulf states that sometimes they are just plain wrong!
Herb Kelleher, the famous CEO of Southwest Airlines, states in his book ‘From Nuts!” that the customer is not always right.
He says “One of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can possibly commit is to say that the customer is always right. Sometimes they are just wrong. We can’t carry those customers. We write to them and say ‘fly with someone else. We don’t want you!’”
This isn’t to say, of course, that you should simply walk away from customers you don’t agree with or who give you a bad time.
Naturally, there are going to be situations and circumstances where you goofed-up, and the customer has every right to be annoyed and demand recompense.
But what of those situations where it’s obvious that the customer is wrong in their assessment and maybe ends up blaming you or your company, or complains about something that is beyond reasonable control?
Should you bow down to this type of customer and agree, even if the situation is not your fault?
Your delivery was late and the complaint from the customer has been escalated.
In this situation, you would probably agree that the high levels of service were not up to your usual standards, and you will endeavour to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
You don’t want to go into detail about the process breakdown you experienced, or the transport difficulties encountered on that day.
The customer isn’t interested in excuses; they just want their products!
But what if they now start criticising your whole company, or you personally?
Is that escalation an acceptable position to take, one that you can agree with?
Well, unless your delivery service is REALLY the worst in your industry, and your sales processes really do make it impossible for you to keep your delivery promises, you probably would want to discuss this opinion with your client.
You can disagree without it sounding patronising or guilt-throwing.
Saying something like, “I agree that on this occasion, because of circumstances beyond our control, we didn’t meet your expectations, and I have apologised for that. However, we as a business pride ourselves on being able to exceed customers’ expectations, and it would be wrong to assume we don’t care about our service backup. Naturally, you are entitled to bring this to our attention, and we thank you for doing so. But we can’t agree with your assessment of our overall service levels based on this one incident. We hope you see that this was a one-off and we will be happy to prove our service levels to you with future orders”
Something like this proves you’re open to criticism when it’s due and will accept responsibility when things go wrong and it’s your fault, but your assertiveness in dealing with the client’s escalation of criticism is unfounded and you don’t have to agree with those specific sentiments.
Hopefully, with the back-up of your company, you can address issues like this where the client is wrong in what they are saying, in a firm, polite and assertive way, and ensure the customer realises that you won’t be a walkover, bowing to all their demands, but will stand up for the rights of being heard.
If you prove yourself to be assertive and not agree to every level of service your customer demands if it means admitting to lowering your standards, you run the risk of being walked over, and that may not be good for business or for the future relationship with that specific customer.
Not every customer is the right customer for your business.
Mr Selfridge may have had the right idea, but it doesn’t apply on every occasion.