Someone recently left a comment on HR Bartender with a mention of the old saying, “The customer is always right.” I think my opinion of the saying has changed over the years.
There are times when the customer is absolutely right. The company messed up big time and they need to take responsibility for their mistake. Organizations have a huge opportunity to win a raving fan, instead of gaslighting the customer into thinking it was their own fault or simply apologizing without accepting responsibility. Organizations should invest in customer service and problem-solving training to help employees work directly with customers. I don’t believe customers expect perfection. They do expect to be treated with respect; and ignoring service challenges isn’t the way to do it.
There are also times when the customer is wrong. Often, it’s because the customer doesn’t understand the rules. Great examples are industries like health care, telecommunications, and government. They have unique regulations, lengthy contracts and forms, and it takes some time before we get the hang of working with them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing those industries. It’s who they are and, as a consumer, we need to educate ourselves on how to work with them. We have an obligation to understand what we’re buying.
But at the end of the day, the customer is still the customer. And there’s not an unlimited supply of them.
So, organizations need to listen to their customers. If an organization sees an increase in complaints about a particular topic, maybe they need to address it upfront with customers.
Years ago, the HR department I worked in tracked the number (and subject) of complaints we received each month. A complaint was defined as something an employee came into HR to discuss. If an employee stopped me in the ladies room to complain – and yes, that does happen – it wasn’t registered as a complaint. Whether it was right or wrong, we decided that if you took the time to come to HR, that it must be important and it would be logged.
Back to my point. What we discovered was that we could start to see trends. One meeting here and another meeting there didn’t look like much on their own, but you could see that there was an issue. It told us to pay attention and start doing some research.
Businesses need to do the same thing. If they make a mistake, fix it. If they see a trend, address it. I believe as a general rule, people want to be good consumers. They don’t engage with your organization because they’re looking for a fight. Complaining isn’t fun. So companies should figure out how to let the customer be the customer. It’s a win for everyone.
This customer’s image captured by Sharlyn Lauby outside the Tequila Museum in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico1