November 21, 2014
When retailers started incorporating the oft-repeated motto "The customer is always right" in the early 1900's, they had the best of intentions. Hoping to improve customer service, increase customer satisfaction, and encourage customer loyalty, the motto gave life to a new era in customer service. And while many companies still live by this motto today, a new breed of customer-facing companies and organizations are starting to sing a different tune.
When growing your brand and your business, it's important to consider the kind of company you want to become. Balancing and responding to customer complaints isn't an easy job, but someones got to do it, and that someone probably shouldn't assume the customer is always right. What was good for business in the 1900's isn't necessarily good for business now and taking a "sometimes the customer is wrong" approach won't damn your business like some business folk might have you believe.
3 reasons the customer isn't always right
You hired an amazing staff and you hired that staff to fill specific roles within your company. At a certain point you have to trust that your employees know how to do the job that you hired them for (if you don't trust them to do that, perhaps you need to consider why). With an understanding that your employees are good at their jobs, understand your product, and want the company to succeed, it stands to reason that they are occasionally (if not usually) right. Your employees should understand your product better than anyone else and this in-depth knowledge of your product probably gives them a better understanding of how your customers can use it.
When a customer complains, entertain the idea that the customer could be wrong and your employee could be right. Assuming the customer is always right means assuming that those interacting with the customers are always wrong. That's not fair to them and it will make them feel under-appreciated and under-valued. And why would they want to stay with and continue to defend a company that doesn't appreciate or value them? I wouldn't.
What do you sell and who do you market to? Often, you'll find that your ideal customer is not your only customer, and you can expand your target market accordingly. You should not, however, expand your brand to fit the people that will never really fit.
We sell software as a service (SaaS). We're an SaaS company. Our software is a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. If you don't have relationships you're interested in managing better, we're probably not for you. If you're not sure where the power button is on your computer, we're probably not for you. We don't want people that don't find value in relationship management or that don't know how to use the internet to buy our product. And that's not because we hate money. We want to make a profit just like anyone else, but at what cost?
If someone that won't find value out of our service buys it anyway, we're still going to spend time trying to train them on it and explaining the value of it, just like any other customer; but the return on the investment for us in zilch. We want to put our time and our energy into customers that will stick with us, grow with us, and provide constructive feedback. Sometimes we just have to say "maybe our service isn't for you" and let them follow another path.
Companies spend a lot of time pretending this one is not a thing. People are quick to openly complain about bad customer service. Your waitress was horrible? Tell everyone on Facebook. You couldn't return the Ralph Lauren dress without a receipt? Tweet about it. And make sure you tag the responsible parties. But companies? Companies don't typically talk about their bad customers. It's really not good form. No one wants to give their business to a company that calls out horrible customers because we all worry that someday it could be us they're tweeting about.
But here's the thing: All of your customers are not nice people. Go ahead and read that a couple more times until it sinks it. Just like in the real world, the chances that everyone you will encounter as a company are decent people that want the best for you are pretty slim. Consider that the next time someone reaches out to criticize your product or your team. Assess whether their complaint is valid and/or constructive and react appropriately. There are going to be times when people have no interest in complaining as an effort to improve your company or your product; they just want to complain. Loudly. Don't give into the negativity.
It's not always easy to figure out if the customer is right or wrong - and sometimes they're neither - but it's always worth looking into. Assuming the customer is always right doesn't always help your business and in some cases can even harm it. Know how to weed out constructive criticism, how to get to the root of customer problems, and how to position your brand to target your ideal customer. Each of these pieces will help you to find customers that are often right and customers with a vested interest in your company's success. When customers are right, respond accordingly and take action when necessary, and when customers are wrong, don't be afraid to acknowledge it as kindly as possible.
Emphasis on kind. You don't want to be the next viral social media disaster.