Is The Customer Always Right?


What business owner hasn’t been subjected to a brazen “The customer is always right!” thrown their way during the course of their working days? Whether you’re in retail, mail order or are Internet-based, and regardless of what you sell, you are going to hear this more often than you’d like to. So how do you deal with it? Do you cave each time something unrealistic or outside of your policy is demanded of you?

Here’s the deal: Every human on earth shares a lot of behavioral traits, which is why when things are good or bad to any degree, we can make a pretty safe assumption on how someone will act. When things are good, it’s universal to smile, right? Yelling and shouting are behaviors that pretty much guarantee something’s not going well. Sure, we all have variations and that’s what makes us special and different — but overall, we can’t escape the fact that we’re pretty predictable in a lot of ways.

Back to business. All of us business owners have also been customers, so the first thing to do when confronted with a belligerent or upset customer is to throw yourself into their shoes and forget that you’re the business owner. Listen to their complaint IN FULL, even if the first few minutes are grating your nerves because they’re overly emotional and attacking your character (which will happen when people act out of emotion.) Focus on the facts: Did they order something from you that was never sent, even after 2 weeks of waiting, when your policy is to ship within 48 hours? Did they send something back for a refund and have proof it was sent, but 3 months later their credit card still hasn’t been credited by you? Or were they confronted with an obnoxious salesperson who refused to help them in your store and instead was glued to the phone? In the grand picture of life, none of this is grounds for a public beheading — but, at that moment the customer is feeling taken advantage of by YOU. Mistakes happen every day, but sometimes one mistake will happen to catch a live wire, so to speak. And now you have to figure out what to do.

If what happened really and truly was an oversight, just fess up. You’re human and your customer will appreciate hearing it. Let them know you’re sorry, there was a shipping/billing/clerical error and you would like to fix it for them. Tell them first what you are going to do. Then, ask them what else you can do to make it better. Chances are, the only thing they really want is what should be coming to them — maybe a refund, or the product they already paid money for, or some basic customer service from the sales staff. Most people feel guilty even asking for extras they didn’t rightfully earn. But then you can over-deliver for them to make up for it; simply let them know you’ll be happy to overnight the missing course to them at no extra cost, and to make up for the trouble you’d like to throw in a special bonus trinket (this depends on what you sell, of course). Or even though you got the item back a day or two late, you’ll credit them because they’ve purchased from you before. Or you’d like to assign a special sales member to cater to only them and an extra 20% off if they come back to your store this Saturday. These things are all most likely outside of your standard policy, and that’s exactly what will help smooth any hard feelings over with the customer — if they were really acting on good intentions.

Believe it or not, if you run a reputable company you will rarely encounter a vicious, nasty thief only wanting to bleed your company dry. Those are easy to spot, because nothing you offer to do (short of handing a blank check to them and asking them to fill out how much they want) will appease them. Unjustified accusations, threats, and bullying are not standard customer behaviors — and because of that, you shouldn’t reward those types of people by accommodating them. You’ll be paving the way for others just like them to target your company because you’ll develop a reputation for being ‘scam-able’ — and they’ll spread the word to everyone. You would be amazed at how many blogs and forums exist with people who spend months on end just learning how to scam businesses… and looking for their next target.

So is the customer always right? Somebody who takes a chance on your company with their hard-earned money deserves the benefit of the doubt. If they prove otherwise, you reserve the right not to do business with them anymore. Again, you’ll be surprisingly pleased at how easy it is to maintain good customer relations as long as you’re running your company legally and ethically. The ‘bad seeds’ will come around every so often, but your good, solid customers more than make up for those.

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