Is the customer always, right?

Lina Malas
Lina Malas
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I admire those who choose Customer Service as their career path. Customer Service is a critical element of any business--from helping people locate the business, to informing a customer about products, ensuring product delivery, and fielding customer feedback. Positive customer feedback is energizing as it validates the organization’s purpose and confirms that the business is delivering their promise. On the other hand, customer complaints can be difficult at times since criticism, although sometimes constructive, can be harsh.

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Many companies use the 100-year-old mantra “the customer is always right” as a beacon to improve customer service and ensure that employees strive to treat customers with respect and reverence.

As a small business owner with over 800 Google and Trip Advisor reviews, numerous comments on social media platforms, as well as countless customer interactions on the ground, I have had my share of feeling elated and quickly deflated. In today’s world, we have the added dimension of anonymity, where a customer or non-customer can anonymously criticize an organization affecting ratings without justification or conversation.

In a B2C business, most employees are customer-facing and experience a myriad of incidents every day. I have struggled to effectively offer our customer service team the right tools to manage the variety of humans they encounter. In the process, I realized (first-hand) the ineffectiveness of the outdated mantra that gives absolute power to the customer.

An approach that my son has often used to diffuse my frustration when we disagree is: “You are not wrong.” These simple words reassure me that I am heard, and I am not fully at fault. I’ve tried to pass this simple learning on to my team. The following is an example of a common occurrence at our ticket office, where we’ve adjusted the approach to steer away, ever-so-gently, from unconditionally giving in to our customers while reassuring them of our respect and concern:

Parent: “I want my child to move to the next level with his brothers.”

Ticket Office: “I understand that your child has the ability and motivation to excel in the next level. The problem is that your child is still not tall enough. It is not physically safe for your child to move to the next level.”

Parent: “I am the parent and I know him--his brothers will help him.”

Ticket Office: “You are not wrong, yet I am prohibited to go against our safety regulations. Hopefully your son will reach the correct height soon and will be able to join his brothers.”

The customer can then choose to accept and understand the values of the organization (in this case safety) or proceed to threaten with a bad online review. What is important here is that the customer service representative’s response is rooted in the company’s values.

It is important to recognize that customers are our best teachers. They help us improve our business processes and systems. Customers also help us understand their concerns, solve challenges, and improve our business in the long run. By the same token, customer-facing colleagues must be empowered to make decisions and approach customers without fear of being reprimanded for their actions.

The key to empowering customer-facing employees is to ensure their actions are guided by the company’s purpose and values. They benefit from being reminded that the customer is not attacking them personally (most of the time), but that they are unhappy with the situation or are simply having a bad day. Humor can be used, as long as it is not perceived as sarcasm. In addition, we must understand that we cannot control the behaviors of others - we can only control our own.

Customer Service is the art of managing human nature. The best customer service representatives exhibit amazing self-awareness and have mastered the art of diffusing rather than igniting situations--even when they know the customer is not always right.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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