The Customer is NOT always right

Preface: I have newly updated this posting after reading a September 2009 posting from Seth Godin called, Win the fight, lose the customer. He writes,

smart marketers understand that the word ‘right’ in “The customer is always right” doesn’t mean that they’d win in court or a debate. It means, “If you want the customer to remain a customer, you need to permit him to believe he’s right.” If someone thinks they’re unhappy, then you know what? They are.

When I was a resort operations exec, that statement,  “the customer is not always right,” was one my employees loved hearing from me. They would say,

“Come on Rosa, say it, just say it. Just stop at the ‘however’ part.”

When you are in the customer service business you will inevitably come across the person who seems to simply be a jerk. For some reason, they may even be relishing being a jerk at that point in time, and there is no satisfying him or her.

So I would say it, giving my staff the brief satisfaction they craved, and the affirmation that it wasn’t them, it was the customer. The customer was having a day in which they woke up on the wrong side of the bed. It was the customer who needed to go back to sleep, get some air or something, so they could start the day over, and start it over happy finding that we were still there, and happy to share the good times with them too.

Yet brief satisfaction given, my employees knew that after a pregnant pause in which we all smiled at each other feeling we were in cahoots, I was not going to “stop at the ‘however’ part.” This was the full speech, and we all knew it by heart, or close enough for the point to be clear:

The customer is NOT always right ” however, how the customer may be feeling right now is their reality, and we have to take the high road, being the good people we are, and figure out what in the world happened causing them to feel as they do. We have to recognize that they feel right, and we have to respect their feelings. If we had any part in their cause and effect sequence WHATSOEVER, we are the ones who need to make it all right. In fact, even if we didn’t, we still have to make it right, because this is about who WE are. And we are good people.

I thought about this today after re-reading a talk story we’ve been having at Rick’s place about motivation, values, and relativity.

I often talk about how values determine our behavior: In a nutshell, that is the entire premise of Managing with Aloha. I write of the nineteen different universal values I believe will help you create a better business, when they are inculcated into a company’s culture pervasively enough to shape everyone’s behavior for the better.
New update: See Choose Values at

Values do something else. They frame things for us. They provide us with a kind of looking glass, a lens through which we see the rest of the world from our own viewpoint. They cause you to see things very subjectively, colored by your opinions and beliefs. Ignoring your values is not an easy thing to do.

So regardless of what they are, the clearer and stronger your values are, and the more definite, assertive, and passionate you are about articulating them, the more you must practice Ha‘aha‘a [Hawaiian value of humility] and Ho‘ohanohano [Hawaiian value of dignity]. These are the values of humility, modesty, open-mindedness, dignity, and respect we all share.

Of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits (they are listed here), most of us have the biggest problem with Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. It sounds like empathy, and that it is, however Covey calls this the habit of communication for good reason. The stronger our own values, the more open-minded we must be if we are to expect others to willingly engage with us, feeling safe, respected, and welcomed when they attempt to do so.

In the aftermath of the London explosions, many of us are asking ourselves questions about good versus bad values. Our disagreements about them will never be resolved if we can’t talk to each other about them, and if we stop trying.

Once a problem exists, objectivity, subjectivity and relativity all get to be a moot point. What we need are open minds, and the willingness to create a better alternative than those that may presently exist.

And guess what? These are the lessons learned of values-centered businesses.This is why I get excited about business, and why I call people in business the best movers and shakers I know.

Someone has to take the high road, and seize the responsibility for leadership.

Someone has to create a forum where calmer voices prevail.

This is not about them. This is about us and about who WE are. And we are good people

Maybe, just maybe, thinking of our adversaries as our customers could help.

Related Posts:

Written the 4th of July, 2005 Red White and Blue Values.
Written in November 2004 Let’s define values.


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