The guiding principle behind good customer service is usually summed up in this phrase – ‘The customer is always right.’ But if you’ve ever handled customer service issues before, you know this isn’t exactly true.
The customer is NOT always right!
What the original phrase really means is that the customer is always right – in their mind.
The Customer is Right – Even When They’re Wrong
Many businesses don’t do customer service well because they fail to understand that the customer is always right in their own mind.
Put yourself in their position. They have a problem with your company. They come to you expressing this problem. They may have misunderstood company policy or made a mistake when ordering, but they still feel frustrated or angry.
Your first responsibility is to listen to them and empathize. When you show that you trust them, you validate their feelings. In other words, they’re right. Now they’re ready to cooperate with you to reach a viable solution.
The Customer Is Always Wrong
It might be easier to understand this by taking an example of the opposite attitude – the customer is always wrong. There are certain businesses that have an adversarial attitude toward their customers. This can be common among government agencies and other organizations that don’t depend on the support of the people they serve.
Take, for instance, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or your local college’s financial aid department. Often, the person helping you is overworked and only concerned with one thing – getting rid of you. Whether you walk out of the office smiling or fuming doesn’t matter to them. Your problem is not their problem. You’ve probably done something wrong, and anyway, you’re keeping them from getting their other work done.
When the Customer Is Clearly Wrong
The main argument against the eternal rightness of the customer is the fact that sometimes they are just plain wrong. They make outrageous demands that are impossible or against company policy. They want you to make it stop raining or deliver the Holy Grail to their house.
When this happens, you’re obviously not going to give them what they want. The first step is to empathize with them, no matter how ridiculous the demand. Show them that you recognize their feelings. Next, offer an alternative that your company is capable of giving them. If they press the matter, remind them that what they want is impossible, but stay humble and poised, and not defensive.
‘The customer is always right’ doesn’t mean literally what it says. What it means is that you’re on their side. You’re going to work together to get the situation resolved. Create a company policy that starts with the customers’ needs and develop a system for serving them from there.
About the Author
Ellen Goodwright is a customer service expert and writer. She shares her customer service hints and tips at Customer Service Basics.