The motto “the customer is always right” was popularized by retail pioneers Harry G. Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field. It is a phrase that irritates me to the bone because the customer isn’t always right. It is a phrase that customer have used as the basis to walk into a business demanding whatever they wish regardless of cost or ability to fulfill a request. As early as 1914, there have been challenges to this statement and how it is bad for business. In my retail experience, I’ve seen and heard customer try and weasel their way to discounts or free items. I have three reasons why this phrase should no longer be used: dishonesty, unrealistic expectations and lowering employee morale.
First, customers can be dishonest. Some customers come in causing a situation in order to get something discounted or even free. I’ve had customers tell me that store X or store Y will fulfill a request, why can’t you? Or store X has this so much cheaper, can you price match? This is usually a ploy to get the employee to panic, thinking “I’ll lose this customer to another store if I can’t make this happen.” It usually does not. I’ve seen customers come in time and time again after swearing up and down that they would never shop at a my store because we could not do what they wanted. I’ve made such a claim better, when I’ve said that I would never shop or eat at a business again, and I’ve kept that promise. I can name a few stores or restaurant where my husband and I have not gone to for years because we were upset at our experience.
Second, customer can have unrealistic expectations. I’ve had customers come in with an agenda, determined to get something for nothing. For instance, I used to work for a bakery and cakes can be pricy when you add all the bells and whistles. For my bakery, there were some things we could not do with cake because we did not have the equipment or the space especially when a customer comes in wanting something seen on Ace of Cakes or the Cake Boss. One customer came in with a ridiculous request that I apologize and told her that we were not able to do. The style of cakes done on these shows take a great deal of talent, planning and design that a simple in-store bakery just doesn’t have. In most instances, the cake decorators have only on-the-job training and did not go to a special school in order to decorate cakes.
Finally, it can hurt employee morale when managers consistently bend the rules for customers because they are so afraid of losing customers. They make the employee look like a fool when he or she was simply following company policy. I’m not talking about customer who have legitimate complaints or concerns. I’m talking about the customers who walk in the door and you know will be trouble. Situations that make you feel like an idiot. An employee is simple trying to follow company policy, as trained. It felt like if the management doesn’t care about the corporate policy, then why should I? Now imagine situations like this happening day-in and day-out. It can get very draining that I understand why some employees simply stop caring about the job, about the customers and about the business.
In conclusion, customer service is extremely important. Happy customers mean better business and possibly more business because word of mouth is important. However, there are customers who are so dishonest and have an agenda that nothing, short of giving them something for free, will make them happy. Keeping the customer happy does not mean allowing the employees to be walked all over in order please one customer. A good management team should be able to recognize when the customer is being dishonest for their gain as well as being able to stand up and say “I’m sorry I can’t fulfill that request.” I think the most important thing to remember is high employee morale equals good customer service equals happy customers.