We've all heard that adage, "The customer is always right". Growing up, I didn't put much thought into it. Of course the customer is always right, I'm the customer paying my hard earned money for a product or service so I should get whatever I want duh! As I grew older, I learned what that really meant. Think about who is making this statement. It's the vendor, the business owner, the proprietor telling his customer "The customer is always right" or maybe his employee "The customer is always right". It's NOT the customer saying that he's always right! The light bulb turned on when I realized this subtle nuance. Admittedly, it also required a few experiences running my own business to really cement the concept.
So what does it really mean? Well, I'll tell you what it literally doesn't mean. It doesn't mean the customer is actually right. I think we all know that intuitively but how do we deal with it? The customer is in fact often wrong. More to the point its rarely about who is right or wrong at all. What's really at issue is do we always give the customer what he wants? Is the complaint always justified? How we navigate those grey areas makes the difference between a happy satisfied customer experience vs. a negative one and perhaps more importantly, our own sanity.
So why this adage anyway? "The customer is always right" sprung from an era of, dare I say, "integrity". Common people were more honest and deals were actually made on a hand shake. A man's word made or broke his reputation. In those days, saying the customer is always right made sense. Very few times would someone intentionally try to hurt your business and people respected the businessman who "sucked it up" and gave great service to his customer. Fast forward to modern times and you don't really hear that phrase used much anymore do you? One of the reasons, in my opinion, is that the value system and culture of our society has become much more cynical, savvy, and really untrusting. It's a shame really but its so true with all the fake insurance claims, fraud, etc. So how can the customer always be right? They simply cannot.
However, it still has value in business. "The customer is always right" now means not that the customer is probably asserting a justifiable grievance, right, or need but rather, that if you want the business then you have to make them "feel" like they are right. It's a matter of subtly manipulating the conversation so their egos aren't bruised and you are giving "customer service" to the nth degree.
Believe it or not, I also think the adage modernly means that sometimes, you just have to walk away from the business because the customer is always right. He/she knows what he/she wants and if you can't give it to him maybe someone else will. So the customer is always right. They want what they want when they want it. They'll learn the hard way if its not realistic.
Part of our job as recruiters and truthfully in any sales or consultative capacity is to "educate" our clients. Doing it properly means that you either win over the right business or that you can readily identify when you're at a brick wall and just need to walk away. Isn't it better to qualify properly and get this out of the way up front?
The customer is definitely always right, even when they're not. That way, we save time and energy not going around in circles for purple squirrels or ridiculously low fees. That customer can have his way, but it won't be with me.