The customer is not always right

The customer is not always right

Written by Robert D. Sollars

Remember the old cliché that hung in offices everywhere for decades:

Rule #1 the customer is always right.

Rule #2 if the customer is ever wrong, read rule #1

That’s the way most businesses were run. The customer was always right, even when they were wrong. In no uncertain terms, the company let the employee know it. Usually, it was directly in front of the customer and the employee was not feeling so well after that verbal dressing down by their supervisor or manager. The customer puffed up and knew they could ask for, and get, practically anything from the company.

I’m going to tell you bluntly and succinctly that in most instances the customer is right. Whether it is requesting items such as free delivery, work shifts, or whatever it may be. If it doesn’t cost you many financial resources, why not accommodate them, and as long as they don’t take advantage of your willingness to assist them… There will be those that will of course but you have to know when to say no too.

This attitude should never be considered absolute. Being scared to lose a customer or client because you refused to do something they wanted is never an excuse to fall down and kiss their ass. Many times they want something that is illegal, immoral, or unethical. It’s not worth your integrity or honor to settle it by giving in to their threats to cancel or go elsewhere.

In service businesses many compromises are made because the client requests something that isn’t included in the contract. In most cases, it really is no big deal to grant their request and change the contract just a bit to keep them happy. But in some circumstances, it can be, and is, illegal to grant their request.

I’ve been the subject of this several times throughout my career. The companies I worked for attempted to force me to do something underhanded I wasn’t comfortable with. I have also witnessed it happening on more than a few occasions. And in practically every case the client, not on record, made it clear what the reason was for their request. Then the Branch Manager, or higher up, changed it to make it appear legal for the records.

An incident from the mid-90s when I was with a large national security company: I was requested by the client to remove an officer because “He didn’t fit our corporate image to visitors and employees.” He was a light-skinned black with a red afro. When I refused for the reason stated…

The client then went over my head and requested the same removal from the Branch Manager. The officer was removed from the site because he was “bothering female employees & making them uncomfortable”. The unofficial record was illegal but the official record obviously was fabricated to enhance appearances.

I have many more examples of these kinds of actions being taken, even as extreme as this had been. Was management following Rule #2 above? Of course, it was. But the point gets across very well about being able to tell your customers no.

If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned! – Victor Hugo

Every company I have worked for has attempted to put me in a position to compromise my ethics if I said no, and I have said no many times. Whether it was from an employer or client didn’t really matter to me. In each case, I kept the word no in my vocabulary, which really wasn’t in my best interests…I was disciplined, demoted, or fired more than a couple of times because of holding my integrity & honor above the company’s interests.

Yes, telling the customer no at times may seem like it goes against Unconventional Customer Service but it really doesn’t. #1 is that if you continually say yes and amend your agreements with the customer then the requests will progressively get larger and therefore you’ll end up with an account like mine above.

#2 is simply it may be illegal, immoral, or unethical. In any of those 3 instances, it will literally put you out of business, in court, or behind bars wearing black and white stripes (or pink underwear). None of those are options I would want to contemplate.

Because of that, I have been left in the dark over a great many things, even in management. So Was I told the real reason behind all of the requests I received from clients and customers? Probably not, especially after stating my objections on ethical, legal, or moral grounds.

But like many people, the opening phrase pounded into my head when I entered the workforce looking for a career. At that time, it was in sales. After my start in security, it was never spoken out loud, but the overall sense was not to make the customers mad, upset, or angry and cause us to lose the account, in essence…the customer is always right, whether they are wrong or not…they were always right.

But we as security professionals have to restrain from turning a blind eye and smirking when a customer wants something is done that isn’t exactly, shall we say, kosher for no good purpose or some other reason. If we know it’s questionable then we need to say no.

As babies and toddlers, the word no is one of the first words we learn. When we do, we tell everyone no for any reason we want. Whether it’s to eat, drink, sleep, get dressed or just plain be good. There are times we need to revert back to that simpler time in our lives and tell our customers that the answer is no.

This is an excerpt from my book Unconventional Customer Service: How to Break the Rules to Provide Unparalleled Service, available on Amazon and published in 2018.     Twitter: RobertSollars2


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Copyright 2023 Robert D. Sollars

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