Should the Customer Always Be Right?

You’ve heard the trope, “the customer is always right.” And like most clichés, it is seldom questioned. We assume that if so many people have considered it common wisdom for so long, it simply must be true. Well, I would like to challenge, or better yet, qualify, this age-old truism.

Should the customer always be right?I think this saying is most commonly, and most appropriately, used in the context of customer service. A person wants to return his steak because it is too done. The chef knows it was cooked exactly the way the patron asked, but nevertheless cooks another and sends it out. The customer is always right.

In this type of scenario, that should probably be the case. Most times a happy customer is worth swallowing your pride and doing things his way. But I am afraid that mentality is not true for all business situations, nor do customers want it to be.

Think about why people go to businesses in the first place, especially service providers. They go because those businesses are good at something that those people need, and they look to those professionals to know their stuff, even if it means sometimes contradicting the customer.

This happened in my own family. My parents retired a few years ago and built a house. Part of the house was a really nice integrated sound system. The business that installed the system has been around a long time and is at the top of its field. Well, my parents had ideas about where they wanted the speakers and other components to go, and told their service provider. He listened to their suggestions. He then said no.

He explained that if he installed things where my parents wanted, the system would not live up to its potential, that he knew the best practices for their particular system, and that they should let him implement them. At first, my parents were startled and a little aggravated. After all, the customer is always right, right? Well, after the installation was finished, they were not only pleased, but actually thankful the expert had asserted himself and refused to let them be right.

I have since come to know that provider, and have shared this story with him. He told me that it is more important to him to do the very best work he can, even if he has to occasionally contradict his customers, because he knows that after he is gone and they are enjoying their system, installed correctly, they won’t remember being upset at him. However, if it is done poorly, even if to please them, his customers would only blame him for it. He is willing to risk upsetting a customer in the short term to gain their lasting satisfaction. Now that’s confidence.

Your customers come to you to be good at something. Don’t be obnoxious, and don’t go looking for a fight, but sometimes it is okay to be the expert in the room and say so. After all, it’s only right.

Do you agree?



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