“The customer is always right.” This motto, ingrained in the minds of generations of customer service representatives, has been a guiding principle for businesses across nearly every industry. It’s been accepted as a truism over the course of the 20th century.
But is it true?
Deep down, most of us know that believing this adage requires some serious doublethink. A wide range of critics have pointed out in recent years the simple fact that customers aren’t always right. Throwing your employees under the bus in the face of unreasonable demands from toxic customers isn’t constructive; it represents a serious imbalance in an organization's priorities.
Does “the customer is always right” rule your customer service initiatives? You may need to take a deeper look at your principles as a company. Let’s dive deeper into the problems of this destructive mindset:
There are many reasons why the belief that the customer is always right is problematic. Here are a few of the biggest issues with this mindset:
In addition to framing the relationship between managers, CSRs and customers as adversarial in nature, the presumption that the customer is correct, regardless of the merits of their complaints, can leave your employees feeling helpless. Attempting to placate irrational customers is difficult for employees when they know that their employer will side with the customer in any escalation.
This can wear on an employee’s enthusiasm and motivation — and for good reason. After all, if an organization does not care enough to stick up for employees when they are in the right, why should they care about the business’s overall objectives? This is one of the factors to blame for high employee turnover in customer service positions.
When attempting to satisfy angry customers with unreasonable demands, you’ll likely have to allocate a lot of resources to do so: money, products/services, time, and energy. Going the extra mile to keep customers grateful and loyal is advisable. However, if you’ve already reasonably resolved a customer’s complaint and they’re still demanding more from you, it can be harmful to continue to acquiesce. While larger enterprises may have the means to absorb these losses, they can threaten the livelihood of a small business.
Harming Business’ Reputation
You may be tempted to meet any customer demands in the name of maintaining your business’ reputation, but doing so can, ironically, damage it — and exacerbate the associated resource drain. Once your business is known for giving into unreasonable demands, customer expectations may rise. Opportunistic clients may seek out your business, knowing that they’ll be able to get freebies. As you can see, this is a problem that can compound itself.
The best way to avoid these potential drawbacks is to shift your company’s focus in regards to customer service. Rather that striving to meet every customer’s demand, a set of reasonable, consistent guidelines should be enforced when dealing with customer complaints. The following tips can help you shape those guidelines:
Study Customer Service Interactions
Any revisions to your customer service guidelines should be centered on the specific needs of your customer base. To determine those needs, you’ll need to carefully study customer service interactions. Save customer service emails, as well as any other online messages, for research. Furthermore, if you aren’t already using call monitoring, now is the time to start. Call monitoring, as explained by CallRail, allows you to listen to live or previously recorded calls “in order to audit the performance of call representatives, improve sales or marketing efforts, score the call for leads, and/or develop sales or support strategies.”
Look through these interactions for trends. Take complaints as a form of constructive criticism: Are there specific issues that frequently come up during these interactions? Do certain processes take unreasonably long? Do customers complain about wait times? Can you identify “problem customers” that you need to stop doing business with? Make these observations so that you know what problems need addressing in order to streamline your efforts.
Learn to End Toxic Customer Relationships
If, while poring over these interactions, you discover that particular customers consistently make unreasonable demands, take up too many of your resources, are outright abusive, or are obviously looking to take advantage of your business, you should consider not doing business with them. Remember that businesses can refuse service to anyone for any reason (with the exception of cases of discrimination), and doing so is sometimes the only route that you can take to avoid being targeted by that toxic behavior.
Build loyalty through honesty — not by kowtowing to unreasonable demands. Be as transparent as possible with customers. For instance, when it comes to your use of customer data, let them know precisely what data you are storing, how that data is used, and how customers can ensure that their personal information is kept safe. As noted by customer service experts at KomBea, “Customers appreciate brands that focus on their protection and security, and clear attention on these aspects of the customer relationship can help boost satisfaction as well.”
If you need to relay unfortunate news to a customer — such as a product delay, an increase in service fees, or so on — don’t be evasive about the issue. Again, practicing transparency here will win more loyalty in the long run. Ongoing, open communication is vital.
As antithetical as it is to traditional wisdom, the customer isn’t always right. Evaluate your priorities, your customer service guidelines, and any potentially problematic customers. Are any changes in order?