Why the customer isn't always right

“The customer is always right” is the Golden Rule of customer service, but there are situations when it is simply unattainable. Know it is in your best interest to break the rule.

  • When the customer is uninformed.

Oftentimes, customers will make claims about a product or service that are untrue due to a lack of knowledge. For example, most airlines allow customers to check bags up to 50 lbs. without charging an additional fee, but for international flights the limit is 70 lbs. In situations like these, it is common for a customer to come to the counter insisting that the company policy allows them to check a 70 lb. bag without an additional charge, where according to company policy they are clearly in the wrong. Although the customer maybe upset, your primary responsibility is not to give them what they want, but to be meticulous about keeping your policies up-to-date, understandable, and easily accessible.

Another situation where this may arise is with pricing. For small businesses where customers may feel more comfortable haggling, it is important to remember that only you know the profit-making price of an item, not the customer. The customer is looking for the cheapest price possible. They have no idea of the factors that you as the owner must take into consideration such as the cost of the product or monthly operating expenses.

Lastly, you are the expert on your product or service, not the customer. Customers may try to argue in order to get their way, but in these cases it is best to educate them about what the reality of the product or service is versus their personal expectation. If the customer cannot accept the facts because of their desire for a lower price or non-existent product, you must accept the loss of their business.

  • When the customer is negatively affecting other customers.

There are times when one customer’s behavior interferes with the ability of other customers to enjoy their experience of your product or service. In these cases, you are under the obligation as the business owner to act on behalf of the other customers. The monetary loss suffered from one person will be much less than all of the others who may choose to take their business elsewhere owing to a negative experience. The best example of this is with movie theaters. Every movie theater in America before every movie plays an announcement stating that cell phones must be turned off or placed on silent. A customer who chooses to talk on his or her cell phone during the movie should be escorted out of the theater, without exceptions. By acting, you are preserving the satisfaction of the other customers.

  • When the customer is being greedy.

There are also times when the customer is just being greedy. Customers are looking out for their own interests, and you must protect yourself or face the financial consequences.

Some examples are when customers ask for undeserved compensation, such as an upgrade to first class because of a crying baby or a completely new skirt because of a loose thread. Another common problem is with products that break after the warranty. Even if it is the day after the warranty expired, you must point out that there is no legal obligation for you to provide compensation. One way to avoid getting into a difficult situation in this case is by offering an extended warranty option that can be purchased for an extra amount. For these types of situations, recognize the fact customers that end up costing your business money are not worth appeasing.

The most important thing to remember when making deciding whether or not to obey the golden rule of customer service is to remind yourself of your actual obligations: providing the product/service promised, making a business-sustaining profit, and keeping valued customers happy.

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