‘The Customer is Always Right’ and Other Myths

Certain phrases have become gospel, repeated like a mantra in businesses around the globe. The age-old adage, “The customer is always right” has long been held as the golden rule of customer interactions but what is its true meaning in the customer service world.

While some posit the original phrase is “The customer is always right in matters of taste” there is no real evidence to support or investigate which version of the phrase came first.

The customer is always right:
This view ignores the fact that customers can be dishonest, have unrealistic expectations, find fault without any justification or misuse a product in ways that renders the product faulty. This version of the adage made sense in bygone times when consumers rights were not protected as extensively as they are today. With the protection consumers enjoy today it could be argued that this view is outdated in the modern world.

The customer is always right in matters of taste:
This view embraces the notion that customers have the final say in which colour or design they want their final product however garish the salesperson or business might find it. While industry experts might gently lead a customer in a certain direction, its the paying customers preference that matters most.

Several misconceptions surround customer service for small businesses. It’s essential to dispel these myths to ensure that small business owners focus on effective strategies. Here are some common misconceptions:

  • Customer Service Is Only for Large Companies: Many small business owners may believe that customer service is not as crucial for them as it is for larger corporations. In reality, excellent customer service is a key differentiator for small businesses, fostering loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.
  • Customer Service is Expensive: Some small business owners may view investing in customer service as an unnecessary expense. However, poor customer service can lead to lost business, and investing in customer satisfaction often pays off in customer retention and positive reviews.
  • Customer Service is Only for Handling Complaints: Customer service is not just about resolving complaints. It involves building relationships, offering support, and providing valuable information. Proactive and positive interactions contribute to a strong customer-business relationship.
  • Only Negative Feedback Matters: Some small business owners may focus only on negative feedback and ignore positive comments. Recognizing and appreciating positive feedback can boost morale and contribute to a positive brand image.
  • I Know What Customers Want Without Asking: Assuming you understand your customers’ needs without actively seeking feedback can lead to misunderstandings. Regularly gathering customer feedback helps in adapting and improving products or services.
  • Customer Service is Separate from Marketing: Customer service and marketing are interconnected. Satisfied customers become advocates, contributing to positive word-of-mouth marketing. Treating customer service as an integral part of your marketing strategy is essential.
  • Only Large Companies Can Provide 24/7 Support: While providing 24/7 support might be challenging for a small business, offering timely and responsive communication during business hours can still make a significant impact on customer satisfaction.

By dispelling these misconceptions, small business owners can better appreciate the importance of customer service and implement effective strategies to enhance the overall customer experience.

Dealing with difficult customers

Handling difficult customers who believe they are always right can be challenging, but it’s crucial to navigate these situations with patience and professionalism. Here are some tips:

  • Remain Calm: Stay composed and avoid reacting emotionally. Responding calmly helps de-escalate the situation.
  • Listen Actively: Allow the customer to express their concerns fully. Demonstrate that you are actively listening, acknowledging their perspective.
  • Empathise: Show empathy by acknowledging their feelings and frustrations. Let them know you understand their perspective, even if you don’t agree.
  • Avoid Arguing: Refrain from arguing with the customer. Instead, focus on finding solutions and addressing their concerns.
  • Choose Your Battles: Determine if the issue is worth disputing. Sometimes, it may be more beneficial to compromise rather than engage in a lengthy argument.
  • Apologise When Appropriate: If the situation warrants an apology, offer one sincerely. This doesn’t necessarily mean admitting fault, but expressing regret for any inconvenience.
  • Provide Solutions: Offer practical solutions to address their concerns. Focus on finding common ground and resolving the issue to their satisfaction.
  • Set Clear Boundaries: Politely but firmly establish boundaries for acceptable behavior. Communicate that while you are there to help, mutual respect is essential.
  • Learn from the Experience: Reflect on the encounter and consider what could be done differently in the future. Continuous improvement is key in customer service.

Dealing with challenging customers requires a delicate balance of diplomacy, patience, and problem-solving. By approaching these situations with professionalism and a commitment to finding solutions, you can often diffuse tensions and maintain a positive customer-business relationship. As a small business owner, whether you believe “The customer is always right” or “The customer is always right in matters of taste” is highly subjective.

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