Customers are often wrong

Assuming the customer is always right costs a business, other clients

In Summary

• Customer service should be balanced with a dose of pragmatism for greater good

A waitress prepares to attend to a customer
A waitress prepares to attend to a customer

The customer is always right. The customer is king. Your wish is my command. These are a few of the slogans often posted as reminders for customer service staff across the world.

Anyone in sales can testify customers are not always right. There are customers who will never be satisfied no matter the effort put into pleasing them. Some customers are rude, while others are dishonest. Excessively pandering to the wishes of customers can, quite ironically, wreck a business.

Ryanair, a low-cost airline in Europe, is known to break customer care protocols. Despite its notoriety, Ryanair remains a favourite for travellers looking for cheap flights. "People say the customer is always right, but you know what, they're not," Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary is quoted saying. "Sometimes they are wrong, and they need to be told so."

Writer Frank Farrington, who authored 'The Successful Salesman', cautions against putting customer interests ahead of everything else in the business. For starters, buyers are also imperfect human beings capable of mistakes. A business encounters lots of buyers each day, so the probability of mistakes among customers is rather high.

"A business that assumes the customer is always right assumes responsibility for the mistakes of the buyer," Farrington wrote. "If we adopt the policy of accepting anything the customer claims, we shall be subjected to losses." The losses will, in turn, force the business to raise prices for everybody else, creating a scenario where the good customers are paying for losses caused by dishonest individuals.

Furthermore, excessive pandering to the demands of customers can create bad blood between business owner and employees. Sometimes a business owner has to take the side of the employees. Last December, a holidaymaker at the South Coast lamented how she and her entourage were kicked out of a restaurant in Diani. The entourage was dissatisfied with the restaurant's services, with some individuals hinting at posting negative online reviews about the establishment.

On hearing about the ongoings, the restaurant's burly owner charged out of his office towards the group. He ordered them out for allegedly disrespecting his workers. "Nobody threatens my employees," the proprietor said. There was a lot of online debate on the merits of the restaurateur's actions, but this was a case of a businessman choosing his employees over potential customers.

How about if you are a building contractor and your client proposes to use materials of inferior quality because they are cheaper? Would you go along with the client's wishes because the customer is always right? As a trained professional in your field, it is your solemn duty to reject bad ideas. Remember, as Farrington said in his book, there's always a high probability that customers will make mistakes.

The key point to remember is that it is not sustainable to try to please everybody all the time. Manage customer expectations so that they know your limits. Specialise in your area of expertise and customers will definitely find value in doing business with you.

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