The saying “the customer is always right” is one of the most well-known maxims in business. But is it actually true that customers are always in the right? This age-old expression has its roots in customer service psychology and continues to influence how companies interact with consumers today. Let's take a closer look at the meaning behind this famous phrase and examine whether customers are really always right.
The basic idea behind this maxim is that customers know what they want and it's a company's job to provide it. It prioritizes customer satisfaction above all else.
Some key implications of "the customer is always right":
This mindset emerged in the early 20th century as small mom-and-pop stores sought to compete with larger department stores. They used superior customer service as a competitive advantage. The maxim was a way to empower employees to keep customers happy.
There are a few key reasons this motto has stood the test of time:
While the spirit behind this motto made sense in early retail, a debate has emerged around whether it still applies in the modern world. Some limitations have become clear:
Occasionally customers make unreasonable demands that companies simply cannot or should not fulfill. For example:
Strictly adhering to "the customer is always right" would require meeting these demands. But most companies recognize there are certain limits.
Some "customers" abuse this mindset, knowing that companies feel obligated to please them. Verbally abusing staff, making unreasonable demands, and outright scamming are examples of bad faith behavior enabled by an overly rigid interpretation of this maxim.
While customers are important, companies also have responsibilities to employees, shareholders, and the greater public. Catering to customers at the expense of these other groups is short-sighted. A more balanced approach is optimal.
Customers do not have all the information about how a business operates. Their feedback can be short-sighted or fail to grasp certain complexities. Dismissing critical customer feedback out of hand is not constructive.
So where does this leave the age-old motto? Most experts agree that "the customer is always right" retains merit as an ideal to aspire to, but cannot be followed absolutely in all cases. The right approach is balancing multiple stakeholder needs.
While the customer may not literally always be right, keeping their best interests in mind remains smart business. As management guru Peter Drucker put it: “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” The spirit of this age-old maxim lives on.
So while customers may not be unilaterally "right" 100% of the time, keeping their viewpoint central remains wise. Thoughtful policies, empowered employees, and a focus on mutual satisfaction help companies embody this age-old motto in an evolving business landscape.
How does your organization interpret this famous saying?