Is the customer always right? This is an age-old question, one which some would say has a clear, easy answer (“YES!”), while others would argue that the answer is not always an easy one (“Not always!”). Let’s look at examples for each side of customer service and you can decide where you stand on the issue.
The first example come from Caleb Bowen, LA, and some of his insights into this question. Caleb relates:
“When interviewing for a job many years ago I was asked the question, ‘Is the customer ever wrong?’ In the first couple of phases when asked this I replied, ‘Yes!’ with no hesitation. In my mind I was thinking, ‘Of course the customer can be wrong!’ By the third and final phase of the interview process I was asked this question again. I said to the interviewer, ‘I responded the last two times to this question with a ‘yes,’ but I am thinking that is the wrong answer.’ He looked at me and said, ‘The customer is always right.’
“As I thought on that I asked, ‘Why?’ I looked into the results of customer experience, and here is some of what I found.
“As we go through life an individual that has had a negative experience or interaction is far more likely to tell others about what happened then if they had a positive experience. It is human nature to focus on the negative. An individual that has been negatively impacted will typically tell 9-15 people about their ‘bad’ experience. For a business this can be devastating. Once that negative seed is planted it can be very difficult in many cases to uproot it and replace it with something positive. Studies show that it will take up to 40 positive reviews to undo the damage of just one negative review. Studies also show that there is over a 90% change that someone won’t do business with a company again if they are dissatisfied with it. Those can be pretty hard odds to beat when the whole thing could have been easily avoided by a smile and a listening ear.”
We all have our own personal experiences when good customer service kept us coming back and when bad customer service chased us away from a business. In Caleb’s case, he had an experience when bad customer service chased him away from a business, but when given the chance, the business was able to turn things around. Caleb relates:
“When the In and Out Burger franchise came to Utah my brother and I went to try it out to see if it was as good as we had heard. We walked in and let the counter worker know we had never been there and wanted to know what was most popular since supposedly you had to say things that weren’t on the menu to create this amazing experience. He basically just said to pick something off the menu and that’s what people got. So, we each ordered a hamburger and fries. This lunch ended up being most unsatisfactory for the both of us, from the unhelpful order boy to the dry burgers and freezer burned fries. Needless to say, it took about ten years before I tried In N Out Burger again!
“Just recently, I gave In N Out Burger a second try, mainly because it was the only quick bite open late one night. The experience was much different and I will be returning. Keep in mind, that if the boy behind the counter had taken twenty seconds to help us out, I likely would have been an In N Out customer from that moment on!”
Is the Customer Ever Wrong?
The argument that a customer is always right is convincing, but some of us may have had experiences when the customer wasn’t right, and we had to make a judgement call of whether to let it be or give up a customer.
For some businesses it depends on their established tolerance level for difficult customers (how much abuse is acceptable, if any) as well as the work situation (e.g. a family run business, a very small business, a very large business, etc.). I am not an appraiser, but I do run my own business, and my experience can certainly strike a chord with many self-employed or other small business owners and employees.
I run a music studio with two of my teenage daughters (names have been changed), Shelley (she and I teach piano) and Amy (the guitar teacher). We always put customer satisfaction first, which means putting up with students and/or parents who don’t always follow our studio policies. We remind and firmly enforce, and get good results from standing firm but being reasonable. Out of the six years that we’ve been teaching, to our knowledge we’ve only ever had one parent (not the student) who left unsatisfied. What caused this one anomaly out of dozens of students?
First, let me give a side story that partially explains why I did what I did in the end. I have a good friend who used to teach voice lessons. They key words here are used to. She is extremely talented and extremely kind. The only problem with being extremely kind, she didn’t have the heart to enforce her studio policies, and after several months of teaching was being severely taken advantage of by multiple parents. Some left their kids at her house for hours, some had her pick up and drop off their kids for lessons, some never even paid! So she quit. She quit because she didn’t want to put up with being taken advantage of by thoughtless customers.
With this thought in mind, a situation with Amy’s student came up, one that suddenly escalated. For months the student’s parent would often drop the student off late, or at the wrong time, or not at all. Amy worked with the mother to reschedule (however, according to our studio policies, Amy was never under any obligation to reschedule if the student missed). On top of that, the parent had to be reminded to pay every month, and then reminded again. Late payment is expressly against our policy and Amy was justified in charging a fee, which she never did. After months of this, Amy had about had it, but she enjoyed teaching the student and knew that the problem was all the mom’s fault, not the student’s, and she didn’t want to punish the student by dropping her as a customer.
Everything came to a head when the parent went on a trip out of the country. While in Ireland, the parent continued to text Amy, trying to get her daughter in at different times because the person who was supposed to bring her forgot, or perhaps never got the message in the first place.
During this time, Amy needed to rearrange her teaching schedule due to her schooling. She asked the mom if she was willing to permanently move her daughter to a different time and day. The parent agreed. Then forgot. Then got extremely upset when she couldn’t reschedule because my daughter was simply too busy to reschedule that week. I let Amy try to work it out with the parent until the parent started to get rude, then I took over communicating. The parent insisted that it was Amy’s fault for changing the lesson time. This woman never took any responsibility for her irresponsibility and lapse in memory but blamed Amy for not babysitting her and making sure that she wrote down obligations that she had agreed to. She refused to waive a $12.50 lesson fee for a missed lesson that was completely her fault.
So add up all of the late lessons, no-shows, wrong-time shows, late pays, and now this? After months of this poor treatment, Amy had had it and I asked her if it was worth keeping this student. She said no. Thinking back to my friend’s experience and how she quit rather than stand up to rude customers, I knew that it was time to act in my daughter’s best interest over the tantrums of an irrational parent. And so I stood my ground against a very upset, rude, gone-too-far parent.
This parent lives nearby and I am aware that she might be spreading her side of the story to people in our circle of influence, but if she is, it isn’t having any impact on our studio. Months later our studio is still doing well without us doing any advertising other than a post of Amy playing the guitar now and then. And better yet, my daughter hasn’t quit teaching because we stood up to an intolerable customer.
Is the Customer Always Right?
So is the customer always right? If that customer is rational and not being abusive, yes. If the customer is rude and steps over that line of tolerance that many businesses have, then no, they’re not always right. There does come a time when a business has the right to defend its employees and turn away abusive customers.
It all depends on how much you are willing to tolerate and how desperate you are to have every single customer one hundred percent happy. It also helps to keep in mind that bad reviews have some benefits. These benefits include providing good and bad points about your business to potential customers, which shows them your honesty through your transparency. Bad reviews also help you engage your customers and help you to learn from your mistakes. Bad reviews should be vigorously prevented though, and quickly addressed if brought to your attention.
Preventing Upset Customers
Preventing problems in the first place is the strategy of any company with high customer service ratings. We could write a book on how to keep customers happy! In fact, there are many amazing books on customer service! Check out this article by Hubspot for a list of twenty fantastic customer service books!
To narrow our own how-to list down a bit, let’s focus on a few top tips.
First and foremost, set up your business processes to provide as little friction as possible to the customer! How do you do that? For appraisers this means making yourself easy to reach and responding to customer inquiries promptly. This means that you make your fee schedule easy to understand and payment easy to make and accept. This means that you remedy any complaints as kindly and quickly as you can. Treat your customer as you would like to be treated if you were in their shoes!
How else do you make the customer experience frictionless? Provide a transparent, high-quality product or service. Make every effort to keep mistakes (typos, miscalculations, omissions of important information) out of your product or service! The best policy? A zero tolerance policy! Don’t release your report if you aren’t sure that there are no mistakes! And if mistakes do show up, remedy the issues as cheerfully and quickly as possible!
Once you have established yourself as a high-quality, prompt, cheerful professional and you continue to do business the same way, it’s unlikely that you’ll have upset customers. However, as many of us know, despite our best efforts, every now and then we have to deal with someone who feels as if their needs aren’t being met by our business.
How To Handle An Upset Customer
So how do you handle an upset customer?
- Avoid upsetting customers in the first place (I know we already went over this but it bears repeating)
- Have a plan of action in place before something actually happens
- Ask genuine questions, aim to understand
- Sincerely apologize
- Make it right
- Take a break and regroup after the encounter
A short example of why these tips will work: I became frustrated with the lack of communication and helpfulness from my car insurance company after an accident. After the claim was resolved, I contacted my agent and voiced my concerns and told him that I was moving to a different company. Instead of listening, sympathizing, and kindly trying to work with me, he became defensive and rude. He pointed out how much the insurance company had spent on my family’s claims and showed no sympathy, nor did he ask how he could do better or how he could keep my business. And so I left the company, taking my family’s business elsewhere. If the agent had simply listened, asked questions, expressed understanding for what my family had been through, and been professional and kind, I probably would have continued doing business with him. But his poor response was the final straw. It was his poor customer service that lost him my business.
On the flip side, I do business with the same car repair shop that I’ve done business with for over a decade. While there have been a couple of minor hiccups over the years, I have been willing to tolerate the hiccups because the customer service is top notch! This business is friendly, honest, sympathetic, and highly skilled. My car is done when they say it will be done, the repairs are high-quality, the technicians and service desk employees are friendly, and they clearly value my repeat business. This top service provider gives good customer service and they keep my business (and are always busy!) because of that!
Let ‘Em Go?
Let’s keep this one short and sweet, since there may be some of you reading this who will never let a customer go no matter how awful that customer is. But for those of you who do have a tolerance max level, how to know when to let the customer go?
- The customer is verbally abusive
- The customer rejects your efforts to work out the problem and makes irrational, impossible-to-satisfy demands
- The customer asks you to do something illegal and won’t take “no” for an answer
Is the customer always right? Ninety-nine percent of the time, yes! Doing everything that you can do to make a customer happy is beyond important! Preventing unhappy customers in the first place is the first step, then having a plan to deal with unhappy customers and acting on that plan are your next steps.
You can be that smart, successful business that has high customer satisfaction ratings, that customers refer others to, and that maintains a full schedule. Make a plan, fine-tune it, and you’ll be well on your way!
May all of your customers be happy!