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The Customer Is Always Right: Or Are They?

Is the customer always right? Let's explore how to provide customer-centric service without neglecting your business' other needs!

If you cringe when you hear the phrase ‘the customer is always right’, you’re not alone. It’s a pillar of classic customer support philosophy, and there’s certainly a kernel of truth to it.

At the same time, you’ll encounter plenty of customers who make you question this aphorism. Whether they’re aggressive, unreasonable, or have unrealistic expectations, problematic customers can come in all shapes and sizes.  

So is the customer really always right? Of course not. And you don’t necessarily have to pretend they are in order to provide effective customer service. Let’s talk about how to strike a better balance.

Why Customer-Centric Service Matters

At the heart of ‘the customer is always right’ is the idea of customer-centric service. Since your business lives or dies based on customer perceptions, it is smart to put the customer first whenever possible.

Doing that is not just about offering a quality product or fixing a problem. It’s also about making sure every interaction with your customers is tailored to meet their needs and expectations. That leads to:

  • Customer satisfaction: When customers love the service, they stick around.
  • Free marketing: People talk. When they’re satisfied, they become your brand ambassadors, without costing you a dime.

‘Customer-centric’ isn’t just a buzzword – it’s a long-term strategy. When you see your business through your customers’ eyes, you’ll find opportunities to improve and innovate. It’s a win-win: a better experience for them, and a thriving business for you.

Pros and Cons of ‘The Customer Is Always Right’ Philosophy

So does customer-centric service require you to treat the customer as though they’re always right? Not necessarily. You can choose whether to adopt that approach for your business, as it has both advantages and drawbacks.

Pros of ‘The Customer Is Always Right’

When your mantra is that the customer is always right, you’re aiming to build a solid base of trust. This philosophy, popularized by successful entrepreneurs around the world, shapes your company’s image as passionately customer-centric. 

By treating every customer as a king, your business creates a reputation for excellent customer service. This can be pivotal for repeat business, and can trigger a domino effect of positive word-of-mouth that encourages growth.

Cons of ‘The Customer Is Always Right’

On the flip side, there’s a strong chance that some people will exploit your customer-first policy.

Buyers wielding this phrase like a sword can cause undue stress to your staff. Having to deal with unreasonable demands can be harmful to your team’s morale, and with it the overall service quality. 

Furthermore, adhering strictly to this philosophy isn’t always going to be profitable. Sometimes, bending over backwards to accommodate a customer’s demands just doesn’t align with the best interests of your business.

Finally, it’s worth noting that even if you treat the customer as though they’re right, they may not leave happy. Many angry customers stay angry even when you give them what they want, and so they may not represent a reliable client base.

Alternatives to ‘The Customer Is Always Right’

‘The customer is always right” may be a good approach for some businesses. For others, it doesn’t fit. You’ll need to consider the above pros and cons in light of your business’ goals and customer base.

If this mindset isn’t working for you, there are other approaches you can try. The goal is to understand and meet the needs of your customers, without compromising your business’ health or your employees’ wellbeing.

Other popular models include:

  • Buyer Beware. This principle shifts some responsibility back to the customer, ensuring that they are also aware of their part in the buying process.
  • The Customer Is Not Stupid. This perspective suggests that you should respect your customers’ intelligence by providing clear and honest information, and letting them make informed decisions.

Ultimately, it’s best not to rely too heavily on one model or mantra. Every customer and interaction is different. So while you might maintain general principles, we’d also suggest staying flexible rather than forcing every customer experience down one pathway.

5 Ways To Balance Customer Demands with Business Needs

Whether the customer is wrong or right, you still want to focus on providing them with the best possible service and experience. Here are a few ways to do that.

1. Practice Effective Communication

First, get to know what your customers actually want. Analyze customer feedback, listen closely to their concerns, and try to be positive and helpful.

Treat each customer like an individual, and each interaction as a unique event. Even if the customer is not exactly right, you can use communication techniques to meet them where they’re at and find a solution. 

2. Empower Your Staff

Next, make sure your employees are equipped to make decisions that increase customer satisfaction, within reasonable limits. Training your staff effectively means they can handle situations on the retail floor or in customer service calls without always having to escalate issues.

That saves them time, and results in quicker service for the customer. A smart place to start is with empathy training, but you may also want to develop a complete training program for your customer service agents.

3. Don’t Neglect Your Business’ Needs

A customer-centric approach is important, but it shouldn’t be taken so far that it starts sinking your ship. Your policies should create a win-win situation where your customers feel heard, and your business doesn’t take unnecessary losses.

That can be tricky when your business’ needs conflict with what the customer wants:

PriorityBusiness NeedCustomer Satisfaction
1Maintaining profitabilityFair pricing
2Efficient resource management, including staff and inventoryProduct availability and quality service
3Sustainable growth strategiesConsistent improvement and innovation

Finding the right balance is a unique process for each business. However, starting by being open about what you can and can’t do goes a long way.

Transparency builds trust, and trust builds loyalty. When a customer knows you’re being honest with them, they’ll be more likely to stick around, even when you can’t meet their demands to the letter.

4. Know When To Call It Quits

Sometimes, there’s just no other option than to ‘fire’ a customer. If you’ve already gone through multiple discussions, email exchanges, roadblocks, and unreasonable requests, it may be better for both parties to part ways. 

In other words, if it becomes clear that you just can’t satisfy a particular customer, wrap things up as gracefully as you can. Depending on your business model, it usually makes sense to issue a refund. But if the service or product was already consumed, you may have to find an alternative. 

Regardless of the particulars, and no matter how the customer is acting, try to end things as gracefully and professionally as possible. You never know – a few years down the line that customer may come to realize they were in the wrong, and give your business another try.

5. Provide Your Support Team With the Right Tools

It’s difficult for even the best-trained and most conscientious agents to provide quality support without the right tools. If they’re trying to manage customer requests and complaints via an email platform like Gmail or Outlook, it’s easy for delays to happen and messages to go missing.

Therefore, a key part of your customer-centric strategy should be equipping your support agents to perform their best. If you want to make sure your customers are always taken care of, Groove can help:

The Groove dashboard.

By integrating various support channels like email, social media, and live chat into one unified dashboard, you can respond promptly and effectively to customer inquiries, ensuring that the customer’s needs are always prioritized.

Plus, with Groove you can track, organize, and manage customer support requests efficiently:

The Groove inbox for managing customer requests.

This ensures that no request is overlooked and improves response times, maximizing the chance that each customer leaves happy whether they were right or wrong.

Taking a Nuanced Approach To Customer Service

Customers are the ones bringing money into your company, so their preferences must be prioritized. At the same time, ‘the customer is always right’ can be an extreme approach.

Rather than adhering to one mantra, we’d recommend treating each customer as an individual. Listen to their problems, communicate effectively, and be as helpful as you can – but don’t forget that your business’ overall needs and your support agents’ wellbeing matter too.

No matter what customer-centric stance your business takes, Groove can help you meet and even exceed each customer’s expectations. Check it out today!

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