The customer is always right?

From a very young age, we are taught “The customer is always right.” In almost every industry and every type of job, there are customer interactions. I’ve worked in many industries in my life and have been told, sometimes by the customer, that the customer is always right.

Are customers omniscient? What is special about them that makes them always right? For the purposes of this article, think of a customer as the person who is purchasing a good or a service.

If I am working in a retail setting, and someone buys $5 worth of goods, gives me a $10 bill and then tells me that they are owed $6, clearly they are incorrect. “But the customer is always right…” (Everyone has encountered one of these wise guys before.) There are a few ways you can respond in this situation. You can simply say “no, you’re wrong. Its $5” and explain why. You can choose to be abrupt and just give them $5 back and move on. You can treat their demand for $6 as a joke and hope they’ll realize and laugh off their mistake with you. How you respond is a choice.

More often than not, things aren’t as clear cut as the above example. In the world of IT, you are generally dealing with customer’s feelings/perceptions. What does the customer being always right mean in these circumstances?

Things get a little murkier here. Everyone has a bias based on their life experiences. Some people are more optimistic, some hope for the best and expect the worst, and some people live in the realm of the worst case scenario. A person’s bias will shape how they react to and view situations.

If a customer has always had horrible experiences whenever their IT infrastructure is upgraded, they will expect the upgrade you are helping them with to go sideways. Maybe they will ask more questions or hover or nitpick every little thing you do. Does this make them wrong? No. Will you get annoyed by what you perceive as them hovering or micromanaging you? Possibly. Will this cause you to then talk about what an annoying customer you had to deal with? Hopefully not.

The customer being right is a mindset. It applies to good customer service. When dealing with customers, you need to remember that they have their own background and biases that color their interactions with and perceptions of you. I think when we say customers are always right, what we are really saying is that we will do our best to acknowledge and respond to customer perceptions and feelings.

Winston Churchill said “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip”. This is what we need to remember when dealing with customers. Even if they are not “right” in the absolute sense, when they are wrong, we need to use Winston Churchill style tact to explain the situation.

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