In fact, the customer or end-user is often wrong. I imagine when the phrase was coined its intended purpose was almost purely marketing, as in to make the customer feel like they’re right even when they’re wrong. Not to be literally taken, although this I’m sure backfired in some cases. In the very least, this idea results in snide comments (I’m sure everyone has witnessed waiting in line at a store) “I thought the customer was always right?” likely followed by a “Well, that’s not our policy mam.” response.
Really, that policy isn’t good for anyone, even the customer, because it obscures and leaves expectations open-ended. Obviously, it’s important for businesses and professionals to keep expectations in check, but it’s also good for the customer or client because they then know exactly what they should expect for X amount of dollars so they know the real value of the arrangement.
I’ve worked with hundreds of my own clients and consulted or provided customer support for other companies’ customers in the thousands. I didn’t major in business marketing or human behavior, but I have a lot of real-world experience and I know my stuff. When it comes to customer relations, the “The Customer is Always Right” policy is a bad idea. You have to be very clear and keep expectations under control.
I’ve dealt with everything from users who didn’t pay anything (they’re using a free product), but because you’re placed in the role of providing them support (only as a courtesy mind you), you now owe them the world, to customers who paid good money and give you a compliment, even saying they would have paid more and never ask for anything. These are obviously extremes to illustrate a point.
The former I’ll call the “Abusive Customer”.
A customer that pays nothing to very little, but expects the red carpet treatment. They have a very narrow and selfish way of looking at things. If they expect something or think something should be better, they’ll first insult you, then expect the “issue” to be “fixed” on a silver platter, immediately, or else.
They’re often abusive in their speech, using expletives and threatening a refund request or they’ll badmouth you or your product. They’ll often express some bizarre and completely unreasonable request and explain why it’s wrong that you don’t provide it and even accuse you of lying, something like:
“You said on your features page that creative things can be done in the header. Well, I want dancing ponies with glitter that changes color and I’m not finding the checkbox to do that, shame on you! You lied! This needs to be fixed immediately or I’ll need a refund and I’ll take my business elsewhere. I’ll be sure to warn others about you.”
Basically, they get an idea in their head about how something should work based on their very specific preferences and unrealistic expectations that can’t possibly coincide with any other customers or the overall betterment of the product. You might explain to them that it’s very specific and that it will involve customization. They become even more angry and say something along the lines of:
“This is why I bought a website template, because I don’t know how to code! This is unbelievable…”
You get the picture. For people like this, you have to expect these kinds of annoyances every now and then with any business and just let it go. These kind of people live in a bubble and think the world revolves around them and are either not intelligent or considerate enough to think about all the angles of the actual situation. They only consider what they want and they better have it or your product is awful.
You’re better off refunding these people instead of wasting your time with them because their expectations will drive you crazy. It would be more productive to refund them and work harder to please the average and informed customers. In other words, those that can actually be pleased.
The latter I’ll call the “Informed Customer”.
A customer that is smarter than the average consumer. With intelligence, often comes rational, reasonable thinking and polite and courteous behavior. They know how to shop around and find what works best for them in the first place. If they need help, they know how to carefully select the most appropriate way to contact support and ask very politely what they need help with, even expressing in advance that they understand if their request is beyond the scope of support.
They listen carefully and help you help them to reach a solution. These are the customers you should work hard at keeping happy. I’m not implying that their should be customer favoritism. You should help all customers equally, what I mean is if you ever manage to upset a good, loyal customer, perhaps you should consider taking what they’re saying as constructive criticism and see if you can make improvements based on their requests. You want to steer them away from refunds because there’s often a loyalty here you can’t afford to lose like with an abusive customer.
The “Average Customer”
A customer that is neither rude nor informed, but needs help. Nine out of ten times, this is simply an end-user issue. What that means is that they’ve simply not followed the documentation correctly or failed or forgot one of the steps. Sometimes, it’s time-consuming because they don’t know what they’ve done wrong. You’ll have to go through all troubleshooting steps with them to finally narrow the issue down. Often, it’s a simple “Oh, I forgot to check that box!” issue and nothing more.
This kind of customer will make up at least 75% of any business type’s support time. Support for this customer type is extremely redundant (as you’ll answer the same questions over and over — hence the reason FAQ pages were introduced), but necessary.
Sometimes the customer is right!
Hey, sometimes the customer really is right. We’re all human, so if this happens, offer an apology (if appropriate), a discount, or partial refund, and work quickly toward a solution. Issues of this nature should take precedence over all other support.
All in all, customers are much savvier these days than they once were. Marketing ploys like “The Customer is Always Right” are a bit condescending if you ask me. This dinosaur concept should be replaced with transparency. Transparency will greatly improve customer expectations to reasonable and manageable levels.