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When the Customer Is Not Right

The old adage of “the customer is always right”, coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, is becoming less realistic for businesses today.  The customer cannot always be “king”, even when a business fails to live up to its part of a buyer-seller relationship and when a customer suffers for no fault of his.  Abrasive customers, particularly those who are eventually allowed to benefit from their antics, often get better treatment than customers who are willing to put up with some valid discomfort. This can cause resentment amongst employees. In fact, companies are now discovering that putting their employees first often results in an increase in customer service standards.

Customer service personnel often have to leave their self respect at the doorstep of the workplace. Putting up with know-it-all, impatient, and sometimes irate customers is part and parcel of a customer service professional’s work. However, businesses are now beginning to recognize that an increase in customer happiness does not necessarily translate into an increase in business. In fact, too many customers getting on the employees’ nerves can seriously affect employee performance and consequently have a negative impact on your business.

Quite often, the bad customers don’t generate any profits for your business; they are simply a nuisance. You should know that customers are not equal. Some are a profitable proposition, some will stagnate, and some represent a negative value.

A common argument against standing up to a customer who is wrong is that it costs more to find a new customer. The truth is, it costs even more to recruit and train an employee who’s had enough. Financials apart, self-respect and dignity are also things that mould your businesses’ image and create loyalty amongst employees.

Companies are sometimes forced to sever ties with certain customers.  Typically, this is the last resort for a business that can no longer sustain unprofitable customers. However, companies are better served if they can lay certain ground rules for customers to follow: This will help prevent misunderstandings and acrimony at a later stage.

Select your customers carefully so that you do not have to “fire” them later on and create ill-will. Let your customer have honest information on your business practices to eliminate any doubts. Draw a line at the maximum level of customer aggression that is permitted, and encourage your employees to stand up firmly and refuse to acquiesce to the customer’s demands when this line is crossed.  True, it is important to empathize with the customer and to remember the importance of customer relationship; however, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that the customer is not “always right”.