Is the customer always right?

Isn’t this the inevitable question when it comes to customer service? It sure seems to be the case. But, here’s my take: if we’re asking that question, we’re not really concerned about customer service.

Just to prove my case – let me give an example and play both sides of the fence. Your business fixes sinks, and a customer calls to complain that the last rep didn’t clean up after fixing his faucet – yet, the rep claims she did. Does determining who’s right (the customer or the rep) really alter your response?

Let me first address those who answer: “Yes, it matters! If the customer is right, the employee needs to be reprimanded. And if the customer is wrong, I don’t want to blame an innocent employee for no reason.” All right, this is a valid point. However, there are two red flags about this argument (for me).

  • This reasoning revolves entirely around the employee. And although I think it’s great that you pay attention to how you’re treating your employees, your treatment of them should not be dependent on your customers’ compliments or complaints. There should be various other factors influencing how you give feedback, coach effectively and develop employees.
  • If the employee did fail to clean the space – in no way should this influence your response to the customer’s complaint. If it’s a fact or not, you can always (politely and professionally) let the rep know someone filed a complaint. The key to passing along this information is to give the employee the benefit of the doubt. If you jump into the blame game, you’ll frustrate and discourage your employee. And if it’s true, I am confident that other red flags will arise about this particular employee that will provide you with a more holistic picture than one complaint could ever paint on its own.

And now, let me talk to those who say,” No! If the customer is right, I want to take this seriously. And if the customer is wrong, I don’t want to give him a real reason to do business elsewhere.” The reason I’m on this side is two-fold:

  • If a customer is wrong when he/she files a complaint, there is no possible way for you to know the reason behind the inaccurate accusation. There are so many outside factors that could cause customers to file inaccurate complaints unintentionally. For this reason, don’t jump the gun and assume that they’re lying intentionally or maliciously. Yes, there are crooks out there – but in the grand scheme of things, they are a small percentage of the otherwise, moral pool of people.
  • The validity of the customer’s complaint shouldn’t determine your level of seriousness. The priority you place on complaints should be process-based, something that’s proactively determined throughout your organization. If you leave up to chance or convenience, you are bound to disappoint customers.

To conclude, I think it’s wrong to ask if the customer is right. The answer should never determine the quality of our customer service – the quality of customer service should always determine the answer. Now, despite my one-sided argument, I would love to hear your thoughts: Do you think it’s a worthwhile question to ask? Comment below.