Is the customer always right?

26 replies



The question was posed awhile back: "Is the customer always right?"

What brought this discussion to my mind was an article I read recently about Macy's department stores and their customer service policies. Certainly every retail establishment is faced with the challenge of dealing with customer service issues and online businesses are no different.

If you've been selling online for any length of time you have faced situations where customers have contacted you with some type of issue and you, as the business owner, must decide how you will handle customer requests including refunds, complaints, charge-backs, missed deadlines, back orders, payment snafus, damaged or missing goods, perceived false claims, special handling, etc.

When I was a teenager my family lived in Illinois south of Chicago. I remember on several occasions shopping at Marshall Field's department store in "the loop" where the customer service motto was "Give the lady what she wants!" Marshall Field's became famous for that phrase and it was the philosophy of their customer service approach - regardless of the problem - keep the customer happy and satisfied with every "issue" outcome.

Marshall Field's was acquired by Macy's but the service department is still known for its generous customer friendly policies. "Give the lady what she wants" and the more well known phrase "The customer is always right" suggests a service approach that some businesses swear by . . . and other businesses swear at! The latter often hold their ground and refuse to coddle customers that take undue advantage of their business.

So what do you think?

As an online business owner you will sooner or later be faced with the question of how you deal with difficult and sometimes heated customer service issues. Some businesses have even chosen to make "unrivaled customer service" their USP (unique selling proposition) - the "thing" they want to be known for in their niche! It's the "thing" they feel sets them apart from competing businesses. But is such a forgiving posture good for business?

From a practical and literal standpoint, we all know that the customer is not always right. In fact, some customers make a habit of complaining, asking for refunds, and expecting special treatment that works to their own advantage. The anonymity of the Internet, IMO, has contributed to empowering customers and caused some to increasingly take unwarranted advantage of online businesses.

Nevertheless, there are still many businesses that want to extend every courtesy possible to the customer, even if it occasionally costs them money when they know that the customer is wrong or at fault in the issue. Let's face it, IMO, many customers do not read online "policies" and "terms and conditions" which could alleviate a lot of customer service issues.

How do you feel? Maybe some discussion will help you better understand the issues and possible solutions to this quandary.

The best to all of you,

Steve
#customer
  • Profile picture of the author DanielBlue
    It all comes down to how strong is your reputation. If your business is new and small, you want to do "whatever it takes" so nobody talks bad about you. If you are on the market since longer and have many returning customers than it's different because a few "bad" talking people will not hurt you anymore and they will be there anyway and always. You cannot satisfy everyone.

    The complaints that customers have are normally always repeating. First of all if a complaint repeats and is entitled, try to do things better. Than prepare your coworkers with something like a written catalog:

    I don't know about restaurants, it's just an example:
    Soup is cold >> excuse, heat it up, and give a smile
    Hair in soup>>excuse, replace soup and tell them it's on the house
    Salad instead of soup >>> excuse, tell the client he can keep the salad and get the soup ASAP.

    How to react in case of complaints has to be clear so your coworkers do not have to think about what to do. Customers react totally different when complaints are getting solved much faster than they ever expected. When giving compensation, let them look big and let them be cheap. And always take notes and try to have a witness with you.

    Some complainers come back or will contact a lawyer even if the earlier said everything is ok now...

    On the other hand if you know the client wants to f**k you, then don't play around. Get his address and tell you lawyer to take care. Most people get scared as hell when getting mail from a lawyer and will keep their mouth shut immediately.

    This is how I do it.
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    • Profile picture of the author TonyRoberts
      Some good advice here, nice post.
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  • Profile picture of the author marciayudkin
    I am currently processing a refund of more than a thousand dollars to someone who I believe has a flimsy complaint. It's so not worth it to me to have someone out there severely unhappy (even though it is at least partially their own fault) that I've made two trips to the bank, numerous phone calls, sent more than 10 emails about this and lost half a night's sleep because of the time difference involved when trying to straighten this out.

    What will I get at the end for all this trouble? Nothing. It's just the right way to handle this particular case.

    Marcia Yudkin
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    • Profile picture of the author ryanbiddulph
      I am a big fan of adding "All sales are final" to my businesses and services page Marcia No returns, nothing of that nature. If someone is unhappy they can spend the next 50 lifetimes reading and enjoying my millions of dollar's worth of free content on similar topics

      I also feel the more clear I have gotten on the authenticity, value and depth of my offerings that if anybody genuinely hates my products or services, they did not do their homework on figuring out who I was and what value I'd deliver. It really has nothing to do with me and has everything to do with the other person's projection or perspective, so I worry not about any customer dissatisfaction.
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  • Profile picture of the author awledd
    Some people are complainers no matter what. In that case, customers are not always right.
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  • Profile picture of the author nicheblogger75
    When it comes to digital products I think most of the customers are usually in the wrong.

    However, I offer 60 day refunds on any products I sell so I honor refund requests without question because that's the promise I make to the customer.

    I'm sure I've been had by serial refunders dozens of times, but, if you put something on your sales page, you have to stand behind it.

    Besides, it's not worth a stain on your reputation over a few dollars that I can easily make back the next day.

    One of the great things about digital products is that as a seller you really aren't losing anything if someone wants a refund. It's not like you sent them a piece of physical merchandise. It's a download.

    I get very few refund requests anyway, but when I do, I don't question them. I just refund them and move on. I will ask them what it was they didn't like, though. Not because I'm hassling them, but because I can benefit from the feedback. If more than one person says the same thing, then I know it's an issue I need to address.

    Fighting refunds is not worth your time or sanity. Just give the money back and be done with it.
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  • Profile picture of the author ryanbiddulph
    Not for me Steve. But my reasoning: I feel the source of my business is something Bigger. Call it the Universe, some God. The customers are folks through which business flows to me, because I serve them, but I have no issues releasing on non-matches immediately because I am not overly attached to customers. I appreciate them. I have love for them. But when someone lets their fear call the shots, and steps over the line, I have posture.

    I learned this lesson from spending a LOT of time in Thailand, where the customer is often wrong, and may get an apology, but nothing else I love it. Dissolves the lunacy of American or Western Entitlement, both from a business and life perspective.
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  • Profile picture of the author Frank Donovan
    It's not really a question of right or wrong. In any market, some customers will have unreasonable expectations. How you deal with that is more a matter of positioning.

    You could make it a feature of your business to guarantee customer satisfaction, but that really only works if you pair it with a quality product or service. It also helps if you're in a business that returns good margins to compensate you for the extra time and resources required. Freelancers who trade their time for money know how important it is to be able to identify clients that are better fired than accommodated - especially when it impacts on their other clients.

    Then again, none of this might matter if you have the best soup in town.

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    • Profile picture of the author ryanbiddulph
      In all seriousness, the SN just had posture Frank. Even if the product is not the best or phenomenal, if you don't have the posture of an earthworm, and are clear on your offering, you don't fear upsetting customers, all sales are final and you make dough.

      Letting go bad matches or not even working with them in the first place has been the best move of my career. Ditto for ignoring angry customers. I give my attention to happy customers, so I have a ton more happy customers flow my way and the critics - when they infrequently appear - disappear fast.

      Where your attention and energy goes, grows. It's just most IMers are so afraid to lose anything they piddle in their pantaloons trying to make unhappy people, happy, and then they make the equally silly mistake or ignoring or not appreciating or not giving their prime attention and energy to awesome customers and clients. Focus on the good, the sales expand. Let go all other folks, they disappear, and their parting shots do too.
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  • Profile picture of the author ChrisBa
    They are definitely not always right but if you make them feel like they are always right then that is normally good enough
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  • Profile picture of the author JohnMcCabe
    The customer may not always be right, but they are always the customer.

    A happy customer will tell his immediate circle. It used to ~20 people, but in the days of social media, it might be a few hundred or a few thousand.

    An unhappy customer will shout it from the rooftops, and if they have some juicy video, millions might see it. Look at the airline industry lately. Is there anyone who hasn't seen at least part of that video of that old guy getting dragged from his seat because the airline overbooked the flight?

    For some things, I'm with Ryan on the "all sales are final" approach. Products like books, DVDs, software (when it still mostly came on a disk) have used this approach for years. If there was a defect, the product would be replaced with the same title.

    Just don't go "zero tolerance" on it. In the end, business is still done between people, so there should be some room to accommodate people unhappy with a purchase or experience.
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    • Profile picture of the author ryanbiddulph
      A lot of it comes down to resonance too John. If someone has been a trusted customer or client for months or years, I trust them, and would be open to working with them as far as returns. I guess it's easier for me because every single one of my items is virtual meaning it'd be tough to have a defect
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  • Profile picture of the author marciayudkin
    Customers are NOT always right.

    I remove them from my list.
    Good point. I do too. But that doesn't imply anything one way or the other about how you placate them.

    You can placate them AND take them off your list OR not placate them and simply take them off your list.

    The trickiest instances are those involving services rather than products, I think, where subjectivity and expectations tend to be bigger factors.

    Marcia Yudkin
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  • Profile picture of the author yukon
    Banned
    Is the customer always right?
    How much ass are you willing to kiss in order to make a sale?
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    Hi
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  • Profile picture of the author elmo033057
    Steve,

    The customer is NOT always right.

    I bend over backwards for my clients and customers, but there are those times where they are totally wrong.

    Let me give you an example:

    I had a lady contact me awhile back for copywriting services. She needed all kinds of work for her new educational organization she was putting together in Washing DC. So she gave me all of her material, and I interviewed her for hours on the phone.

    She swore up and down that she needed my help because she could tell from my knowledge base on marketing and copywriting that I could really help her.

    Every single word I wrote for that woman was wrong. She kept telling me that I had no idea what her organization was about in my copy. Not only that, but she didn't like any of the graphics I did for her organization.

    So I consulted her again for several hours, and she still didn't like what I wrote.

    I sent my work to another professional that I had been working with previously, and he looked at all the notes I had taken, background work, as well as the copy and brochures - and he told me I had done a masterful job.

    So, out of sheer frustration, I asked her what she wanted me to write and I wrote down her exact words.

    Guess what? She still didn't like it and told me I just didn't get it.

    I told her politely that those were her words - to which she didn't know what to say.

    So, I told her that I could not help her and perhaps she would be better off looking for another copywriter. She kept insisting I was the guy she needed on her team, and that she still wanted me to work with her.

    I stopped all communication with her at this point, because SHE was the one that just didn't "get it".

    Sometimes you have to fire the client, that's just the way it is. In my case, I didn't want to do it, because I had already done so much preliminary work for her.

    But there is a silver lining to this story. I gained two valuable things from this experience:

    1. I got a great portfolio piece out of this episode, which I use all the time to get brochure and flyer clients.

    2. I learned what questions to ask when dealing with "wantrepreneurs" that think they know what they want, but don't.

    If I start preliminary work with clients and they can't even tell me the first thing about their business...I cut them loose.


    Better for both of us if I do.

    I don't mind coaching someone and teaching helping them figure out their marketing strategy. But if they aren't even going to fill out some of the questionnaires that I send them, they can't be serious.

    So, if a customer or client is a pain in the buttocks, tell them sorry, but they need to go elsewhere.

    God Bless!

    Elmo
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  • Profile picture of the author xpatlifestyle
    customer is the king ... no!

    1. you need to have your own business value, or your business will never grow.
    2. you need to have your own personal attitude, or your customer will point to your nose.
    3. you need to sometime use your finger to point to your customer and yell at them to do what you want them to do, most customer is un-educated!

    of course, provide extra value and give the right advice with polite customer service is the key
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    • Profile picture of the author JohnMcCabe
      Originally Posted by xpatlifestyle View Post

      customer is the king ... no!

      1. you need to have your own business value, or your business will never grow.
      2. you need to have your own personal attitude, or your customer will point to your nose.
      3. you need to sometime use your finger to point to your customer and yell at them to do what you want them to do, most customer is un-educated!

      of course, provide extra value and give the right advice with polite customer service is the key
      I don't get it.

      How is using your finger to point to your customer and yelling at them to do what you want them to do "polite customer service"?
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      • Profile picture of the author ryanbiddulph
        Yeah they don't even do this in SE Asia LOL. Just politely ignoring a customer then moving on. A customer can be way off base, but it so helps to be polite, nice and firm with them.
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  • Profile picture of the author Jessica Amboos
    We all know that customers can be a pain. Those of us who are working in this industry have dealt with irate, frustrated and unhappy customers. There are those who wouldn't want to speak with anyone but a manager, those with long sorry explanations why they encountered that problem and still others who "think" they know how to do the job by telling us what to do and how to do it. Let's face it. We are all customers. If we receive bad customer service, we complain about it. Rather than being rude to the next customer service representative, why can't we be more polite and carefully explain our side of the story? In doing so, not only will your complaint be resolved but you will also get a better bargain. It's all a matter of appeasing your customers.

    Even though some customers were wrong, we may well have do everything we can to appease them since the word of mouth is stronger than any ad you can ever think of. If they leave unhappy, they will badmouth your company thereby leaving you with more losses than you started off with. But there are also times where you just can't deal with them that you'd be happy losing that customer. You just have to weigh everything out.
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  • Profile picture of the author Benjamin Ehinger
    Simply put, no. Even thinking the customer is always right is wrong on all levels. Most customers are right, most of the time. However, not all customers are always right, or right for you and your business model for that matter.

    I have fired multiple clients over my years as a freelance writer because they would rather waste as much of my time being perfectionists than accept that they got a ton of value for the price they paid. Some customers simply don't fit with your business, your beliefs or the way you want to run your business. Other customers simply complain for no good reason and they are not right at all.

    Again, MOST customers are right MOST of the time, but there are always exceptions to the rules.
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  • Profile picture of the author KhalilAlAsbahi
    "the customer is always right" in business? Well, a quick Google search reveals more than 3 million matching Web pages containing that exact phrase. If you buy into the the "wisdom of the crowds," you're probably wondering why in the world only your business ended up with a lot of "wrong" customers.
    Here's the secret that many business owners are afraid to admit: the customer is not always right. In fact, some customers are so wrong, you sometimes feel like a fired-up baseball umpire that just wants to get in the face of your customers and scream at them just how wrong they are.
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  • Profile picture of the author Steve B
    I think some of the people responding to this thread have missed the point I was trying to get across - and that's probably my fault.

    It's not really whether the customer is actually right or wrong (there is no reason on earth to believe that every customer coming to your business is going to be "right" 100% of the time).

    The point is . . . should you treat your customers in a way that suggests to them that you are going to care for them and make sure they are satisfied (and even happy) with their experience with your business?

    Thanks to all who have contributed to this thread. Other ideas and thoughts are encouraged.

    Steve
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    • Profile picture of the author ryanbiddulph
      A hearty "yes" on that one Steve.

      For me, it is nothing personal with customers or clients. I appreciate every human being that comes my way. I just see some partnerships as non-matches, and release on them quickly. Still appreciate them.

      The tone of what I do seems alien to a lot of entrepreneurs. I pick my clients. Just a faith and trust thing. As for as customers, I love 'em, but if there are complaints I let it go with a smile, knowing I supplied them with endless content to provide them with clarity in making their buying decision. So much of it is just not sweating negative feedback, and me putting my trust in something Bigger than customer feedback or bad reviews. It has worked well for me so far
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    • Profile picture of the author Frank Donovan
      Originally Posted by Steve B View Post

      It's not really whether the customer is actually right or wrong (there is no reason on earth to believe that every customer coming to your business is going to be "right" 100% of the time).
      The point is . . . should you treat your customers in a way that suggests to them that you are going to care for them and make sure they are satisfied (and even happy) with their experience with your business?
      That's why I said earlier that it wasn't really a matter of right or wrong.

      Some customers can feel genuinely aggrieved and still be totally "wrong" when, for whatever reason, their expectations haven't been met. How you deal with that will depend on factors like the time and effort you've invested into the deal and the likely impact on your reputation. And, of course, the principles by which you run your business. In any event, all customers deserve courtesy.

      At times, it might be tempting to wrangle with a customer who's clearly being deliberately difficult, but that just turns a transaction into a needless confrontation - which doesn't help any business look good.

      The other side of the coin is that if your business involves a predominently one-to-one relationship, such as being a service provider, you'd better develop either your people skills or a thick skin. I've hired some professionals who give the impression that clients are an inconvenience or, at best, a necessary evil of doing business. They'd be better off selling products behind the cover of a shopping cart.
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  • Profile picture of the author shuvoimtiaz
    I think customer is not always right. You know why? Well, if you are a designer/agency making a logo for clients, you'll definitely know that customer is not always right. I have seen most of the logo clients doesn't know, what they actually need. You have to show them tons of designs, but they'll not be satisfied. Same rules goes for all sort of creative works.
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