The Customer May Not Be Right

Quick Summary: Determine the customer’s issues as they perceive them before trying to resolve them.


Blindly accepting the fact that the customer is always right can be a disservice to both parties.  Customers may, in fact, be mistaken.  Addressing their feelings is as important as addressing the facts.

In some circles, the title of this article may seem to be blasphemous. “How dare you say it; the customer is ALWAYS right” could be the knee-jerk response.  The customer is always right philosophy was advocated by the founders of Marshall Fields and adopted by many companies in their quest for dramatic quality improvements in the 1970s.  A less dramatic but probably more appropriate statement is, “Don’t argue with customers.”  The fact is, the customer may be wrong or, more tactfully stated, the customer may be mistaken.

The triggering event that drives the philosophy to never argue with a customer is usually based on a feeling.  Specific facts such as the product doesn’t work, may be the root cause of the feeling and easily verified.  In many cases, the actual facts may be that the product does not work as expected or as was told.  Arguing about the facts does little good in changing feelings or resolving the issue.  Winning an argument implies that the other party loses.  In the end, who benefits?  Taking the approach that the customer’s feelings are always right is the key to beginning a dialogue with the customer.  Understanding the root cause of those feelings and developing a mutually satisfactory solution that allows the customer to change their feelings is the key to issue resolution.  Recalling the concept discussed in the article in this collection “Hearing Versus Broadcasting,” it is not important what you say; all that matters is what the other party hears and understands.  Although you may have spoken clearly, quoting facts and figures, a customer’s negative feelings may prevent them from hearing and evaluating what you have said.  Facts are not persuasive.  Tact and patience are key elements in your response even if they are not reciprocated by the customer.

Before even attempting to resolve the situation, the focus must be on defusing the situation.  Make it personal; listen to the problem before asking lots of questions.  Start by saying “I want to help you” and “We will do whatever is fair.”  So, the customer may not always be right but they will always be the customer.  Meet them more than half way and focus on helping them change their feelings. You can’t change their feelings for them. Only your actions can do that.


Article Number : 5.030506   

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