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The “Customer” Is Always Right

It’s been said that the “The customer is always right” came into being as a familiar slogan some time in the early 20th century and was championed by both Marshall Field, who established his first retail store in Chicago in the late 19th century, and also by another department store founder, Harry Gordon Selfrigde from the United Kingdom. The general consensus is that one of them coined the phrase, but no one is sure which one.  However it came about, it’s something that everyone who is in any sort of business that provides goods and services to customers has heard (and possibly had it drilled into them).

From a common sense perspective, I don’t believe that these entrepreneurs intended that the slogan be taken literally in every situation. What they were attempting to do was to make the customer feel special by training their employees to behave as if the customer was right, even when they weren’t. And, I would agree that this is not entirely a bad idea. After all, when a customer makes a purchase and it turns out that something isn’t right about it, a person can be quite upset about the situation and not be vere pleasant to deal with because they are afraid that they may have wasted their money and the business they dealt with may not be willing to ‘make it right’, or that they’ve invested time and effort in a purchase that resulted in a problem and now they’re stuck with something they don’t need or want, or it doesn’t suit their needs the way they thought it would.

So, the bottom line is fear. In the human condition, fear is the basis for all negative emotions. Fear of loss of some sort, whether it be financial or personal. And, when you look at it from that perspective….that somebody is frightened and it’s resulting in their less-than-pleasant behavior, I believe that you, as a business person or customer representative, should be committed to doing the best job you can do to work through that, and hang on to the belief that the “customer” is always right.

However, I’m also convinced that once somebody does anything that is deemed untoward behavior, such as being dishonest or abusive in an attempt to get what they want, then they are no longer a “customer” and the philosophy that they are “always right” no longer applies to this person.

I recently was involved in a sitution in which I had to deal with a “person” who purchased one of our DVD training programs. It was “HVACR Electrical Troubleshooting: Deciding Where To Begin” and he purchased it through an on-line retailer, and he requested expedited shipping. We shipped the item the same day, and within a week received a notice from the re-seller that this person wanted to return the program because he claimed that it didn’t follow through with a complete diagnosis, and then complete instructions on part replacement for each of the problems discussed. When we responded that the title….”Deciding Where To Begin”…..and the description of the program content was clear, the story changed.

It wasn’t that the program didn’t turn out as advertised after all, it was that he had mistakenly purchased the wrong program, intending to buy the title “Electrical Fundamentals For HVACR Technicians.”

And, when I got involved further with this person, the story changed again. The real reason for the return, he said, was because he was sure that what we sent him was a ‘bootleg’ copy and not an originally produced and dubbed product.

And, once I got into a phone conversation with this person, I never even got to complete a sentence when I was told that the reason for his wanting a refund was “none of your F-ing business!”….twice.

Of course, my response to this was exactly what it should have been. Although I certainly understand that the basis for his anger was fear, it was no longer my obligation to consider him a customer, and he certainly was no longer right, so I fired him. Yes, sometimes a business has to ‘fire’ a “person” who might have started out as a “customer”, but turned out to be a dishonest ( actually, a thief and a liar in this case who convinced a huge corporation that he was entitled to a refund when he was not ) and unnecessarily abusive individual.

Learn from yesterday…..Live for today…..Look forward to tomorrow