The Customer Is Always Right

What was the first basic rule of business you ever learned? Here’s a hint, it’s the title of this post. C’mon, say it with me, “the customer is always right.” Great job gang. Gold stars for everyone.
At first glance, this is a pretty bold statement. And let’s be honest, nobody is always right. Unless of course you’re like me and have occassionally used, and abused, this statement in response to receiving poor customer service. But putting our self-serving interests aside, let’s examine this general principle in an attempt to interpret it’s true meaning.
First, who is this customer person? The customer isn’t just someone paying money for a product or service. The customer can be anyone you have an interaction with. In the business world we can break our customers up into two groups, internal and external. Internal customers are people in your organization such as your boss, your direct reports, and your peers. External customers are your organization’s clients. In your personal life, everyone qualifies as a potential customer. Everyone? Yes, everyone. Make sure you remember this when your wife asks you to take out the garbage tonight.
Next, what does always right really mean? Well, sometimes the customer actually is right. If you give your customer $5 change after they hand you a $20 bill to pay for something that costs $10, they are right in asking you for the $5 you shorted them. More often than not, however, it won’t be this simple. In fact, in many cases the customer is actually wrong.
This is where you say, “well Adam, how can the customer always be right when I know they’re wrong?” Well my friends, let me explain. When the customer is wrong, or feels wronged, what they really want is to be heard, to know that someone empathizes with them, and that someone is going to help them to the best of their ability. This means that even when they’re wrong, treat them like they’re right. Using the wife example, when she reminds you tonight that she asked you to take out the garbage an hour ago, even though it’s only been 15 minutes, simply apologize for the delay and cheerfully take out the garbage.
I was at the doctor’s office last week and witnessed a major failure of this most basic of customer service philosophies. A patient walks up to the front desk to check in. She is told that the doctor has called in sick for the day but the office tried to call her 20 minutes prior to her arrival. An argument then follows over what number the office used to try to contact the patient. Frustration peaks when the patient angrily instructs the office to delete all contact numbers but her cell phone number, the one number they apparently did not try, because “don’t you know that nobody even uses their home numbers these days because we’re all very busy?!?!”
While the rationale behind that statement might be slightly flawed, the impact was very real. The patient wanted to be heard and empathized with. She wanted an acceptable solution. She wanted to hear something like this:
“I understand how frustrating and inconvenient this is. Your doctor is concerned with your well-being and the well-being of his other patients and did not want to risk getting anyone else sick. I apologize that we were unable to contact you in time because we had the wrong primary phone number but let’s correct that now and reschedule your appointment for a time that’s convenient for you.”
Remember that everyone is a customer. Treat your customers like you would want to be treated. And for goodness sake, please take out the trash already.

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