“The Customer Is Always Right” — NOT!
  • Maggie Franklin
  • September 14, 2009

For years I have maintained that Harry Gordon Selfridge was an IDIOT who did a vast disservice not only to the business world, but to the consumer world as well, by coming up with this inane statement and thus teaching generations of shoppers around the world that they should get whatever they ask for without question, boundary, or reason.

 

This ridiculous notion has cost businesses how many millions? Not to mention, how many sleepless nights? Nervous breakdowns? Resentment of our own businesses? And bankruptcies from buying into this crap — and kowtowing to clients and customers who make unreasonable demands and have unrealistic expectations of businesses because, after all, "the customer is always right" and they are the customer, so we're supposed to lick their shoes?

 

PSSHAW. (Hand up.) WhatEVA.

 

The problem is, the customer is not always right. Maybe Wal-Mart can afford to perpetuate this myth, but I can't. In fact, most business owners can't. But customers don't think about that. Or they don't care. They have been so spoiled by big box stores that will replace their dead plants with no questions asked. Seriously. You think it's perfectly reasonable to return a plant? No matter what? Even though you know your dog peed on it? And what happened to "you break it, you buy it"? Well, someone came along and decided that stores couldn't legally enforce this policy. Really? So it's the store's fault that you let your 3-year-old run through the store where they sell the fancy stemware?

 

Well, what about good old-fashioned ethics? No one has those anymore. Because Harry told us that we don't need them. We're the customer, we're always right. At least, we're always right when we're the customer. He didn't mention what we're supposed to do when we are small business owners and some self-important ingrate comes waltzing into our store and demands that we allow their 3-year-old to run haphazardly through our store among the expensive glassware. You know, the glassware that we had to invest in and that we have to sell in order to make a living? But the dang kid breaks 20 glasses before we can say "hey" and then his mother (our customer, remember?) well she does not care at all for our tone when we tell her kid to stop running. And she doesn't care for our tone at all when we ask her to reign in her kid. And she in no way intends to reimburse us for our busted inventory or our lost profits.

 

But we're supposed to smile meekly and tell her thank you in hopes that she'll be back? With her demon spawn?

 

Whose idea was this?

 

I love doing nails. I sincerely love my job and I'm grateful daily for the opportunity to earn my living in this industry. I'm grateful for the skills to do my job and the incredible people who keep coming back and giving me their hard-earned money in exchange for doing their nails. But believe me, if I manage to burn through the client base and offend so many people with my no-nonsense, blunt statement of what I expect from my clients that no one is left who likes me enough to put up with me and I'm no longer able to earn a living doing nails, well then I guess I'll have to find a "real" job in an office somewhere where they don't let me talk to the customers. Cuz I got news: Customers ain't always right. And sometimes, even though they aren't exactly wrong, they need to hear that my business isn't an appropriate place for their precious angels. Other clients don't want to hear that much profanity, texting while I'm trying to hold their hands is counterproductive to what they have asked me to do for them, and if they are going to pop their gum 18 inches away from my ear, they can live without gum for the next hour.

 

Customers need to unlearn these bad habits and get over this mentality that it's OK to behave rudely and act unreasonably just because some dead guy came up with a really popular marketing quote. Where's the marketing version of  Dr. Phil to lay it out for us? These are the same people who are utterly astonished when we finally get together enough gumption to tell them we're really going to exercise that "right to refuse service" and we're refusing to service them! Because they honestly believe that since they are our customer they deserve our utter and complete compliance with whatever whims they present us with and when we dare to speak up for ourselves — or our coworkers or our other clients — then we are out of line, and we are forgetting who's in charge here, and we need to check our attitudes and get a better appreciation of what that person is worth to us.

 

I'll tell you what a customer like that is worth. She's worth getting rid of. So I can replace her with someone else. Someone who is worth at least every bit as much to my business financially — but who doesn't make me dread going into work on the day I see her name in my book. Who doesn't embarrass me in front of my coworkers and other clients. Who doesn't cost me money because her attitude is driving away my other customers!

Keywords:   clients  



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