Is the customer always right?

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A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all. ~Michael LeBoeuf

“The customer is always right” was coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, Sr. for his Selfridges department store. It has been used as a mantra for millions of businesses since. It’s main purpose, of course, is to give customers an expectation of the service they can expect from your business. “If a business thinks I’m always right then what can I lose?” People feel it’s an outdated slogan but is it? Given the power that customers have today, isn’t this slogan more important than ever?

Is the customer always right?
Is the customer always right?

Let’s breakdown what it really means.

If you take it literally then it’s hard to argue for its usage. The customer is not always right. They can be rude, yell, are usually wrong, smelly, impatient, and demanding. They have little clue about your company’s rules and to be honest, probably don’t care. Their goal is to get what they want and often times their expectations can be way off.

Instead of the literal definition, I like to refer to this slogan as a mindset. At the end of the day, regardless of who has done what, the customer needs to walk away happy. Why? According to TARP: “68% of customer defection takes place because customers feel poorly treated.” The key word here is feel…or their perception of being treated fairly. Customers want to feel that you are concerned for their needs and that you will solve their problem. Saying that “customers are always right” is ultimately saying that what you want your customers to do is keep buying from you and that is right. You must nuture that relationship to get your customer to come back. According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs: “56% – 70% of the customers who complain to you will do business with you again if you resolve their problem. If they feel you acted quickly and to their satisfaction, up to 96% will do business with you again, and they will refer other people to you.” There’s that feel word again. The end of that quote is the 2011 or more specifically the much more powerful word of mouth part.

Customers have such a loud voice nowadays.

Here’s why “The customer is always right” is even more apropo today. Social media has turned customer service on its ear. What was the worst thing a customer could do to you in the 80’s? Write a letter to the corporate office? Maybe tell a few friends? Throw their shoulder pads and leg warmers at you? Blow up your customer service call center? Big deal. Their message could never radiate far. Enter 2011 and the social media world. Now a message about a business can be transmitted to hundreds of your friends who could rebroadcast it to hundreds of theirs and so on and so forth. On the flipside, you can see why the “refer other people to you” part is a lot more powerful then it ever was before. Just as they can send out a negative message about you, they can send out a positive one as well. Word of mouth travels much faster over the network.

Brand Point Jar
Every interaction you have with a customer takes points out of your brand jar or puts them back in. The choice is yours.

Okay then maybe the slogan just needs updating because it doesn’t explain enough.

Sure I’ll go for that. Perhaps the slogan should read “Customers have the power to change our business.” They do it by telling us what’s wrong when they complain, they do it through social media channels, and yes…they do it over the phone. Every interaction takes coins out of your brand point jar or puts them back in. A negative experience will detract and a positive one will increase. By remembering that customers alter our business everyday, we’ll remember to treat them right.

What do you think? Is the customer always right or do customers have the power to change our business? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks to Flick for the pic.

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