Is the customer always right? Let’s explore

By Henry Brown

Years ago, back in 1909 in fact, a phrase penned “the customer is always right” by Harry Gordon Selfridge became a thing, and has done now for many years. It is something we hear just spoken out loud, when a service is bad, a product isn’t up to scratch and a complaint is sent into a business, shop or company. The customer is always right. It is also something that a company may use to their advantage, to perhaps give the impression that they will offer a good service. That their products or services are worth buying. That they appreciate that the customer is always right.

But is this really the case? Do we often think about the domino effect of this complaint that someone has made? Is it legitimate? In a society where claiming for everything has now become a trend can we really say that the customer is always right? Let’s take a look at this in more detail.

Situations where the customer is always right

The first thing that is worth exploring is what sort of situations that you as a business might find yourself in where the customer might be in the right. There will come times in your business life where you will have a complaint and you will need to resolve it in the favour of the customer, whatever the solution might be. Here are some of the common situations that your customer may have an issue or complaint around where you might need to consider the approach of the customer is always right.

-An issue in your shop of work premises – If you are a business with a workplace, a shop or business premises that will have customers entering then you have a duty of care to keep them safe and well onsite. Much like you would do with employees. If there is a slip or fall then you may face a premises liability lawsuit which won’t be an easy thing to go through. You also need to consider the current climate right now. Is your business covid safe? Screens, hand sanitising stations and social distancing guidelines must all be met. If you end up with a complaint from a customer regarding your premises then it will need a proper investigation done. In most cases, if there is negligence on your part then the customer will be absolutely right to complain about it.

A faulty product – You may be proud of the product or products that your business supplies, but if you are to receive a complaint of a fault with it, then in most cases the customer will be right to lodge that complaint and get a refund or replacement. A faulty product is not fit for purpose, and under the goods act, you have a duty to ensure that you supply what someone has ordered and paid for.

Bad service – Another thing to consider would be the service that you provide. If you haven’t given a professional and proper service in which a customer was expecting, then they have every right to complain about that. As a business, you will want to ensure that the service you provide meets the expectation of your customers and clients.

Unprofessional customer service – Last of all, customer service. This can often be the biggest complaint and it can all be down to attitude and the way a situation is handled. Unprofessional customer service can often resort to more complaints.

How you might want to handle complaints into your business

Getting complaints is never easy for any business. But it is part of today’s natural society that we find ourselves in. While you may not always be able to avoid the odd complaint that comes into your business, there are things that you can to ensure that you handle the situation as well as can be. Here are some of the best approaches and strategies to handle complaints well and not resolve then so both parties are happy.

Listen to the complaint – There is nothing worse for a customer or anyone that is lodging a complaint to not be listened to. Make sure you take the time to hear them out, or read the complaint if it has been sent in differently. The more understanding you have, the better chance you have of resolving it. Plus it shows that you are willing to listen which can help to avoid further conflict.

Offer suggestions and solutions – It may be tempting to side with your business and to stick up for yourself, but that won’t solve the issues moving forward. Take time out to consider solutions and offer up suggestions. You don’t always need to give refunds, compensation or replacements straight away. Take time to consider what will work for all parties involved.

Weigh up the positives with the negatives – In some cases, it is often worth looking at the positives and negatives of a solution. Sometimes more harm can be done with bad word of mouth press from disgruntled customers. Handling the complaint well can be a positive in the future.

Always remain professional – Last of all, make sure you maintain your professionalism throughout.

When is it wrong to assume that the customer is always right?

There are circumstances, like anything, where there is an argument to suggest that the customer isn’t always right. There are situations that you might find yourself in where it is fair to assume that a customer is “trying” to get a good reaction from anything. Perhaps complaining for complaining’s sake. Maybe not even being fully truthful when it comes to recalling the situation. There will be elements where the customer always being right can have a detrimental effect on your business. Let’s explore some of these possible scenarios.

It can make employees unhappy

When dealing with people in a customer facing environment, and you find that there is a complaint and they think that they should be given x, y and z because the customer is always right, is this really fair on the employee dealing with the situation? Of course it is always good to ensure you keep up a good service, but you also need to protect staff from abuse and it can also cause resentment, especially if you find that in certain cases the customer isn’t always right.

Some customers are just bad for business

There will always be people that aren’t happy with the service, but you can also find that some customers are just bad for business. Perhaps slating your business and making up stories because they don’t get what they wanted when they complained, this can then be a cause for a lawsuit for defamation of character which if a customer is proven to be guilty of, can be won in the businesses favour. The truth is, we may always try to get the resolve we want for our complaint, but if it has been handled well, and there really is no room to go, does it make you right because you wanted that refund or resolve to then leave bad reviews? Is the customer right in this circumstance?

It can result in worse customer service

Sometimes focusing on exactly what the customer wants doesn’t make for good service. You may solve a small problem but does it resolve the bigger picture. Giving in could mean that you end up losing that customer forever, instead of looking at the root cause of their initial complaint and actually resolving it or even standing by your company in a respectful manner. If your employees know that you have their back they can feel more respected in work and can therefore feel more motivated to do a better job, going above and beyond to resolve an issue instead of just giving in and going along with the customer is always the right notion. Which potentially loses you business.

Some customers may not be forthcoming with the truth

In all honesty, not everyone is truthful. In a day and age where there is a strong possibility of getting something for nothing, customers can and will try their best to get something out of your business. Not everyone is like this. But the minority can spoil good customer service to everyone else. In truth, some customers are just wrong. Even in their complaint.

Right now there are a lot of complaints surrounding how businesses are having to deal with their customers because of covid-19. It isn’t ideal that shops have had to shut or services have had to change that can be more time consuming for the customer or a hindrance. Complaining about it is your right, but is that the businesses fault? Nobody asked for coronavirus. There will be situations where even though the saying the customer is always right is a good leadership to follow, in some cases, this might not always be true.

By no means does this mean that a customer isn’t right, but it is certainly worth thinking about the next time you may utter those words.


Henry Brown is an online marketing executive. When he isn’t talking shop, he’s roaming the streets of London, uncovering the extra-ordinary in the ordinary.

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