The Customer is NOT always right

The Customer is NOT always right

Yes, the customer is NOT always right

It is a popular saying in the business world that the customer is always right.

It sounds witty and lots of people love throwing this catchphrase around carelessly.

Unknown to most people, this saying can be downright self-destructive for businesses that go to unreasonable lengths to keep to this ‘rule’.

The negative effects can go much deeper than you realize even for the customers you think are always right. Yes, you will learn how shortly.

First of all, where did this popular idea come from ? According to Wikipedia,

“The customer is always right” is a motto or slogan which exhorts service staff to give a high priority to customer satisfaction. It was popularised by pioneering and successful retailers such as Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field. They advocated that customer complaints should be treated seriously so that customers do not feel cheated or deceived.

This statement was coined as far back as 1909. The original idea was to encourage staff to treat customer complaints seriously. That sounds great for any business that values its customers.

However, just like any idea, it was misinterpreted and is still misinterpreted to this day. It’s so sad.

Let’s look at a few ways it could hurt you in business, generating new ideas or scaling your company.


1. It makes you put your customers above your employees, always. When you follow this idea, you always make your employees feel undervalued and treated like slaves that must fulfill every wish of their lords ( your beloved customers ).

The irony is that your employees will give worse service to the customers since they see themselves as mere replaceable cogs in a wheel.

This is bad for everyone.

If you are a freelancer and you buy into this idea that your client is always right, you will be unprepared to deal with really bad clients not fit for your business and your best move will be to endure the pain. Sooner or later, they either fire you or you fire them.

2. You forget you’re not a genie with unlimited resources

You don’t have all the resources in the world and same goes for your employees — your best resource.

Regardless of the size of your company, you don’t have all the time, energy and manpower required to meet the needs of every kind of customer that comes to you.

It is normal that you will have your fair share of grumbling, ever complaining customers.

In a situation where you have to choose between supporting your employees and taking sides with an abusive customer, you better choose your employees.

Treat your employees with respect and love and it will flow down to the customers at large.

When your customers get this message that though they are important they are not indispensable, they treat you and your employees with some level of respect.

3. Some customers are just bad for you

None of your customers are irreplaceable and you must accept that. It is better to let go of a consistently complaining and abusive customer who will only end up creating stress for your employees. The amount of money the customer is paying you is irrelevant. The money is not worth the abuse, not in the long run.

Innovation / Scaling your business

It is a common practice to look to customer reviews or feedback to get insights on what product features to build or services to deliver. That’s a great idea but it’s sometimes limited.

We know that customers can easily talk about a problem they’re having but not necessarily the best solution. If you fall into the trap of thinking the customer is always right, you will limit the solution space to the problems they describe.

Thomas Edison most likely would have worked on bigger, brighter, more efficient gas lamps if he took in the current feedback at the time.

Henry Ford said , “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”. Faster horses would have been the solution if he treated the customers as the ‘gods’ or ‘experts’ of the problem.

If Steve Jobs relied wholly on customer feedback, we would still be stuck with different variations of the iPod — flatter, faster, or perhaps more battery power.

Next time you hear that catchphrase from someone, you better be careful to understand how the really mean it or implement it in their day to day dealings.

The customer is NOT always right, remember.

Thank you for reading and don’t forget to clap and share.