Is the Customer Always Right?

Introduction, the customer is always right.

In business, companies, managers, and employees strive to offer the best customer service because happy customers lead to more sales and higher profits. The “customer is always right” is a cliché statement that is used as a foundational philosophy for running successful businesses. It is an expression of how much companies value their customers as they are invaluable assets that are vital to the attainment of their goals. This phenomenon has existed for many centuries and has received widespread criticism and positive appraisals. Critics argue that it creates unhappy customers, and it gives undue advantage to undeserving customers. However, proponents believe that it is important because it is a crucial representation of positive business ethics and a commitment to provide products and services of high quality.

The proclamation is correct because customers make the business, it represents good business ethics, it promotes excellence in customer service, and it increases a business’s bottom line. The phrase was pioneered by two retailers, namely Gordon Selfridge, Marshall Field, and John Wanamaker. This came after the realization that the success of their stores was directly proportional to their customers’ degree of happiness. They believed that each business had the responsibility of addressing customer complaints seriously so that they could not feel deceived, manipulated, or cheated (Mendler, 2019). Some critics have faulted the slogan, arguing that some customers can be deceptive, dishonest, and unrealistic, thus hurting the business. In that regard, conducting thorough investigations into complaints is important.

An important reason why many companies uphold the mantra “the customer is always right” is because of their awareness of how invaluable customers are to their success. A firm that lacks customers is simply a group of people spending money, time, and energy to produce goods and services that have no consumers. The phenomenon has existed for a long time because the main goal of any business is to create customer satisfaction through quality products and services. Therefore, the major priority for any business should be the contentment of the consumer. Many businesses have crumbled because of customer dissatisfaction. In such cases, failure emanated from the loss of customers and decreased sales. Negative feedback or reviews from customers can erode the image or reputation of a business (Mendler, 2019). It is difficult for a company to recover from a destroyed image. For example, some companies spend billions of dollars on social responsibility programs in an effort to improve their images after scandals that push customers away.

Making customers the focus of a business is an example of positive business ethics. Attentive listening, quality services, timely feedback, and timely communication are actions that promote a business’ image and reputation. A customer should be treated with respect and compassion. A company that treats its clients well reaps several benefits that include loyalty, a positive image, and higher profits (Mendler, 2019). Satisfied customers are an asset to any company because they refer other people to the business. A goal that is common to all businesses is to grow their customer base. In today’s world of advanced technologies, satisfying customers is the key to growth and success because there are many platforms on which people share reviews of their experiences with different companies. Many shoppers read online reviews regarding certain products in order to make purchase decisions. It is beneficial for a business to have positive reviews because that would attract more people because of the excellent customer service and quality products they are likely to receive.

Believing that the customer is always right sets a high standard for customer service excellence. Research has established that the quality of customer experiences determines whether people remain loyal to a company or leave in search of better options (Mendler, 2019). Competitors capitalize on customer dissatisfaction to win new customers. Therefore, investing in customer satisfaction is less costly than losing them to other businesses. This could comprise creating loyalty programs to reward customers, offering discounts, and implementing after-sales services (Mendler, 2019). Excellence in customer service can be achieved in various ways. Examples include responding as quickly as possible, knowing customers through personalized interactions, taking responsibility for mistakes, fixing them, listening to customers, and thinking long term.

The “customer is always right” is a slogan that is common in the business world. It was pioneered by retailers Gordon Selfridge, Marshall Field, and John Wanamaker, who believed that their success was directly linked to customer happiness. The slogan promotes excellence in customer service, encourages the production of quality goods and services, and upholds positive business ethics. Customers are an important building block for businesses because they increase sales, increase customer numbers, and provide free marketing through the word of mouth. Satisfied customers refer their friends to businesses that provide excellent services and quality products. In addition, they write positive reviews online that are important in improving a company’s brand and reputation. Every business should make customer satisfaction their main goal because dissatisfied customers leave in search of better alternatives.

Mendler, A. (2019). Why the customer is always right. Forbes . Web.

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Is The Customer Always Right? [What It Means + Why It Matters]

Alana Chinn (she/her)

Published: February 24, 2023

Is the customer always right?

customer on the phone trying to tease out if the customer is always right at a business

If you’ve worked in a customer-facing role, I’m sure you’ve heard and experienced this notion first hand. And you likely know that the truth is, the customer isn’t always right.

→ Download Now: The State of Customer Service [Free Report]

But that doesn’t mean this phrase doesn’t hold any merit. Let’s discuss how the ‘customer is always right’ philosophy should (and shouldn’t) factor into your customer service strategy.

Continue reading or jump ahead:

Origin of ‘The Customer Is Always Right’

3 reasons why the customer is always right, how to maintain a customer-first mentality.

The short answer is no, but it’s important to remember that customer satisfaction is your ultimate goal. The phrase ‘the customer is always right’ shouldn’t imply that the customer is never wrong. Instead, your business should use this philosophy to ensure that the customer — and their needs — are always your first priority.

What does ‘the customer is always right’ mean?

While ‘always right’ usually translates to ‘never wrong’, this isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to customer service.

Customers aren’t going to be right in every situation. But they are entitled to having support and service teams do everything in their power (within reason) to satisfy their needs .

Here’s some more perspective on this age old question.

This concept originated in 1893 and was first adopted by retailers who believed that business success relied on customer happiness. It was later introduced in the hospitality industry where it became the early standard for customer service.

Who came up with ‘the customer is always right’?

Marshall Field first introduced the concept when he founded Chicago's first department store, Marshall Field’s, in 1893.

Overseas, Henry Gordon Selfridge followed suit when he opened the first department store in London.

Almost 100 years later, César Ritz introduced the motto to the hospitality industry when he founded The Ritz Carlton Hotels.

His mantra was "Le client n'a jamais tort," which means the customer is never wrong.

customer always right essay

In all cases, these pioneers instructed their employees to give priority to customer satisfaction, no questions asked.

Although it was a novel idea at the time, their strategy worked. Customers were not used to being treated with that level of care, and they flocked to both these businesses in response.

Subscribing to the mindset that the customer is always right means that businesses shouldn't spend time questioning the legitimacy of customer complaints .

Instead, employees focus their energy on troubleshooting issues, and delighting customers with solutions.

  • The customer always has the right to have their voice heard.
  • The customer always deserves to have their issues resolved.
  • The customer always has the privilege to feel empowered.

When you think of ‘the customer is always right’, don’t think of it in the context of ‘customers can do no wrong.’

Here are three reasons why this phrase should hold true.

customer always right essay

1. The customer always has the right to have their voice heard.

Customers want to feel like you’re actively listening to their pain points and concerns. That’s why even the angriest of customers deserve to feel seen and heard by a business.

You should always give your customer the platform to share their opinions — both the positive and the negative. Customer feedback surveys are a great way to make this happen.

2. The customer always deserves to have their issues resolved.

Your job is to provide a seamless experience for your customers. If there’s too much friction throughout the customer journey , those customers are more likely to churn .

You should always strive to resolve customer issues quickly and effectively. Customer journey mapping can help you proactively mitigate these issues along the way.

3. The customer always has the privilege to feel empowered.

Empowered customers are happy customers. Happy customers are loyal customers. And loyal customers are most likely to stick around and promote your business to others.

You should always create an environment where customers feel comfortable using your products on their own. Knowledge bases and FAQs are two solid places to start.

The “customer is always right” way of thinking is all about the customer-first mentality.

Here are a few ways you can lead with this mindset at your business.

customer always right essay

Set customers up for success.

Customer interactions shouldn’t revolve around who is right and who is wrong.

Instead, reps should center the conversation around guiding customers down the best path to success and showing them allyship.

In practice, this looks like:

  • Sympathizing with customer pain points.
  • Redirecting the conversation towards more achievable solutions.
  • Acknowledging the customer's frustrations.
  • Reaffirming that you're on their team.
  • Offering up something you can solve.

For example: "I understand that you're not seeing the results you want here — I know that can be really frustrating. However, I really think we should consider X as an alternative solution."

Realign customer expectations.

Customers can sometimes have unrealistic expectations about how a product works. 

These misunderstandings can lead them to become frustrated because they feel like your product isn’t meeting their needs.

It’s important to make sure the customer has full knowledge about how a product is intended to operate and how they can make it work for them.

  • Zooming out on the goal to ensure everyone's working together.
  • Helping customers understand what they need to change to ensure their expectations are met.

For example: “It looks like you’re having trouble with our analytics tool. Can you clarify what you’re hoping to gain? Then we can figure out where the disconnect may be.”

Build a customer-centric culture.

Even if a customer is technically not correct, maintaining a customer-centric culture is crucial.

There are going to be times when the customer isn’t right, but it’s still important to understand where they are coming from.

  • Aligning with them during customer calls.
  • Provide insight and concrete action items you can take together.
  • Putting their needs first regardless of right or wrong.

For example: “I understand you’re frustrated about this issue, and it’s not your fault. It’s us against the issue — let’s start with X so we can tackle this together.”

Be as straightforward as possible.

Dissatisfaction can sometimes stem from confusion.

A customer may not understand how to use a product, and their confusion can lead them to believe that it’s malfunctioning.

Situations like this require extreme clarity.

  • Confirming whether or not the customer understands what’s going wrong.
  • Taking the time to provide in-depth insights for the customer.
  • Sharing helpful information and resources for further education.

For example: "I found this topic confusing at first, too, but this article was really helpful for me. If that doesn’t help, I have a couple of other resources we can try."

Understand that customer experiences can vary.

Every customer has a right to voice their thoughts, ideas, and opinions about whatever is frustrating them.

And in most cases, the customer has one idea based on their individual experience that is very real to them. It’s important to acknowledge that.

  • Recognizing that each customer experience is real and valid.
  • Actively listening to the specific issue or situation at hand.
  • Not directly comparing one customer’s journey to another.

For example: “I see where you’re coming from, and you’re making some really good points. It sounds like X might make the most sense for you moving forward.”

The Bottom Line

There will always be a never-ending debate over the ‘customer is always right’ strategy. But it's a balance between taking time to understand customers’ issues and providing them with solutions that will bring the most success.

What was true for early retail pioneers is still true now: customer retention revolves around solving customer issues, even if they aren't always right.

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