Why Must Your Customer Always Be Right?

- Jon Moreland

Your customers can be, and frequently are, wrong. Either way, you should always afford them the right to be heard. Listening to customer complaints is part of doing business. It is also a way to gain valuable insight into issues surrounding your business. But listening does not dictate that you must acquiesce to unreasonable demands. Most customers who feel they have been wronged started with unreasonable demands or expectations. If refusing an unreasonable demand means you lose a customer – good for you.

When responding to customer complaints, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

1. Support employees. Responding favorably to unreasonable demands tests your employees’ loyalty to you, your business and your policies. Your employees are your most valuable asset and your first line of defense against adversarial customers. Don’t discourage your employees by overriding their judgement when you show partiality to one customer over another simply because of an unreasonable complaint. Likewise, don’t train your customers to expect exceptional results from unreasonable complaints.

2. Be consistent. Making inconsistent responses to a common problem will undermine your business credibility. When unreasonable demands are based on false information, determine where the misinformation came from. If the misinformation is wide spread, decide how your business will react and keep your employees informed. Be consistent.

3. Recognize social media. The internet and social media have changed everything. When you resolve a customer’s legitimate or rightful complaint, few will ever know. But let someone out-finesse you into yielding to an unreasonable demand and your gullibility will be broadcast throughout social media before you return to your desk.

4. Focus on vital customers. Time is too valuable for you to afford to keep habitual complainers. According to the Pareto Principle (the 80:20 rule of the Law of the Vital Few), you can expect that 80 percent of customer complaints will come from 20 percent of your customers. You can also expect 80 percent of the time spent dealing with customer complaints will be spent on the 20 percent of complaints that were unreasonable in the first place.

Perhaps it was appropriate for Marshall Field in Chicago and Harry Selfridge in London to claim their customers were always right as they established their retail businesses in the early 1900s. However, it was soon pointed out to both men that this view ignores the reality that customers can be dishonest and have unrealistic expectations. That observation has never changed.