Are customers being given too much power? Much more, in today’s world of customers empowered by social media. The customer is not always right but does it really matter? The customer is usually wrong; but statistics indicate that it doesn’t pay to tell him so – Aleister Crowley.

I will begin by providing you with a brief background regarding “the customer is always right” cliché and why you should treat them as if they are. “The customer is always right” is an old adage that exhorts service staff to give a high priority to customer satisfaction. The advocacy behind that adage is that customer complaints should be treated seriously so that customers do not feel cheated or deceived. However, it was later pointed out that this view ignores that customers can be dishonest, have unrealistic expectations, and/or try to misuse a product in ways that may even void the guarantee.

The customer is not always right. In fact, some customers are so wrong, but does it really matter if you are right? No. A customer may not always be right, but here are some of the reasons why you should treat them as if they are.

The customer thinks they are right. Delusional? Maybe. Dangerous, absolutely! By winning the dispute, I could potentially further upset a customer that, sincerely or not, believes they are right. Am I prepared to fight any smear campaign they wage on Facebook or Twitter? Do I want to be distracted or feel intimidated by an arrogant customer on the phone? Not at all. Better to accept that the customer has the right to believe they are right, and just move on.

You see, the customer is not always right. But, and it’s a big “but,” the customer always thinks they are right. That’s what’s important to remember. There may be many incidents where you know that the customer is 100 percent wrong, and couldn’t be any more wrong if their name was Mr. W. Rong from Wrongsville, Wronginham.

Remember, the customer is not always right. But let’s just keep that between you and me, shall we? Treat your customers the way you would want to be treated—even if you knew you were not right—and your business will flourish because word of mouth will treat you well and you won’t get distracted by the Mr. W. Rong’s of the world.

So now that we’ve acknowledged that the customer is not, in fact, always right, why is this adage so popular? Well, aside from giving your customers a warm and fuzzy feeling about your business, it’s the implied meaning that’s made the saying a part of many corporate mission statements.

The customer is always right but it doesn’t give them the right whatsoever to abuse any service staff, the service or organization. Customers should know what is expected of them as part of a relationship. Below is an interesting case study of a cellular operator that was able to identify its abusers.

Some customers are abusing your organization. Several years ago a US cellular operator “fired” a group of customers. The act drew a great deal of popular attention, which caused the company to halt the practice. A closer look at the details disclosed a telling story. The fired customers were low-cost customers who called the cellular operator on average 50 to 100 times a month! They were abusing the system. They did so while paying $29.95 per month for overall cellular service. No customer needs to call a vendor that many times a month. If they do, there is something fundamentally wrong with the relationship and one side has a totally different expectation than the other side. The cellular provider had no other choice but to let them go. Firing this type of customer frees up resources, which can then dedicate their time and attention to address the needs of the right customers.

Every company that operates with clichés such as “the customer is always right” has created abusers – customers who do not know where or when to stop. Customers who think that there is an open, free buffet will have no shame lying to get a free meal. Abusers should not be tolerated and this practice must be stopped. If it does not, you run the risk of spreading it to other customers and compromising your business model. Therefore, business owners should also do their best to protect their service staff from abusive customers. Over generalizing clichés should be replaced with carefully crafted corporate strategies. Customer strategies should not be left to oversimplified clichés and fairy tales.

Final thoughts

Just because your customers aren’t always right, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. I love the Bill Gates quote: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” If you have a customer or client who is seemingly impossible to please, learn from them; but this doesn’t mean the customer has the right to be abusive, but ask yourself what you can do differently in the future to avoid similar problems. In today’s world of customers empowered by social media we rush to fulfill the wishes of every customer who publicly blasts their dissatisfaction. When we do this, we run the risk of raising a new generation of customers who can hold us hostage even when they are wrong and we are right.

The customer is not always right but they are the customer. So if they are wrong, let them be wrong with dignity and respect. 

What do you think: Is the customer always right? If not, how do you know when ‘enough is enough’? Are customers being given too much power? And are business owners doing enough to protect their organizations and service staff from abusive customers?