Can You Keep Everyone Happy?

Ok – show of hands folks….All parents, managers and judges  — Feedback time:

  • When was the last time you could keep all of your kids happy?
  • Make your employees thrilled about all of your decisions?
  • Yield a verdict where both parties “won?”

As a university professor who teaches marketing, and successfully runs several businesses, I love the idea that the customer is always right. It’s a lovely notion. After all, who wouldn’t want to always be right? And the saying reflects a time when there were clear class distinctions where “people who served” clearly were expected to be completely defferential to the “being served” class.

The phrase “The customer is always right” is lovely; As Adrian Swinscoe expertly notes, it reflects a managerial need to remind our employees that “yes, our customers are our guests, and they should be treated as such, even if it means to the extreme notion that they are always right.”

But they’re not.

In the self-centered, combative, impolite society we now engage in , some customers have taken this phrase to the nth degree and made a mockery of it. Others have used it to scam well-meaning entrepreneurs.

I didn’t say all — so please no one get their hackles up – I said SOME. We’ve all seen it done, discussed and even lampooned it in cartoons.

The point is, customers always DO have RIGHTS:

  • they have a right to their opinion (ie: “Your customer service SUCKS”).
  • They have a right to their view (ie: “XYZ is charing half the price you are  — no really – you dont’ need to call them and ask I’m TELLING YOU they are…”).
  • They have a right to those opinions and feelings.

And we as business owners have a right too – to LISTEN, try to hear the real MESSAGE of what these people are (sometimes poorly) trying to say and then evaluate: do they have a point? IF so – what do I do about it?

I have customers. Lot’s of them. They’re not always right, but they do HAVE rights.  And when my customer is actually WRONG, I don’t have to be a jerk about telling them so. (A skill completely lost by most customer service representatives, many retail clerks, etc). As webpreneurs, we get to make the decisions that were never afforded to us as employees. We get to decide who we do business with.

The mantra “The customer is always right” is a bit like the age old dilemma most spouses experience when they are asked “honey, does this [dress, pants, etc] make my butt look big?”

It’s not an easy situation or conversation to manuever; and if you handle the situation badly, you’re REALLY going to be paying for it for a while.

So lesson learned: handling the delicacies of customer conflict is a bit like cooing over someone’s child: no one likes hearing their baby’s ugly.  Tact, listening and empathy are all vital arts /skills in dealing with customers. Managers would do well to not blindly follow the well meaning mantras of a century ago and help their employees learn the skills so that they can live the SPIRIT of those sayings.

Action Steps: What’s your customer philosophy?

  • What’s your belief about customer service and taking care of customers? Where does that belief come from?
  • To what degree will you allow “the customer is right” to exist in your business (if at all?)
  • If you have people who work for you, how do you want to handle this distinction in your business (that the customer is not right?)
  • What training or support can you provide those employees?
  • When is keeping a customer not worth it? When is it worth negotiating?

Class dismissed. Have a good weekend – no homework. The only grades you get are the results from taking action from the super readings you’ve been absorbing and implenting them. The only grades are the number of zeros and commas that scroll across your pay check.


Category: Customer Relationships, Customer service, Organizational Management

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