“Unpopular opinion: ‘The customer is always right’ is one of the most toxic phrases in business and needs to be retired forever.” This tweet by Dan Price made for quite the reaction on Twitter this week. Do you still believe that the customer is king or has there been a shift in the relationship between business and customer?
In hospitality, the “customer who is always right” is often someone complaining about service or the quality of their food or experience. In general business, however, the customer is much more than a person standing in front of you and I think the phrase needs to be seen in a much wider context.
One of the comments on the tweet says: “Translates better to “the market will always be right” (Obscure Combat Sports Radio). And I think this is an important consideration. The customer is not only the person complaining about not being able to bring their dog into your establishment. The customer is also today’s consumer and his/her expectations. You might not want to change your offering or your way of doing business, perhaps the fees of services such as Snapscan, etc. seem high, but that is what today’s customer expect. For me, in today’s world, saying that the customer is right, means that you are listening to their expectations, that you’re keeping your eye on consumer trends, that you make use of big data, etc. Not staying in touch with your consumer is a mistake and something that will affect your business negatively. In this way, the customer is right and businesses have to listen.
When it comes to a customer screaming at a member of staff, making unrealistic demands and having unfair expectations, it is, of course, a different story. And while the customer might not always be right in such circumstances, there are ways of dealing with the situation. “… Industry professionals know the customer isn’t always right, but they always have a right to be heard” (Baba Ganoush). I am often amazed at how people can cut to the core within Twitter’s limited characters. Those in hospitality know how unreasonable customers can be, but even then, respect them enough to hear them out and address the situation wisely. Some people are plainly unreasonable, but most react to a kind and professional response.
Another response on the original tweet: “… And as someone whose family has owned a tavern for 39 years, I can tell you this – it’s NEVER just about their cold fries when they’re being an …. Cold fries can be fixed in 3 mins. It’s about whatever emotional … they walked in the door with.” (Jim Keady) And while servers can’t be expected to know that the customer is having a bad day, I think we can at least expect from servers to give customers the benefit of the doubt and try and save the situation with beforementioned kind and professional service. For me, this is at the heart of hospitality. Not only serving the drinks, but also caring enough to make the day better. Obviously staff can also have a bad day and while this sounds cruel, this is unfortunately not an excuse for those providing the service. Being authentic is always first prize, but of course, all of us sometimes have to fake it to make it through the day.
I have had poor food and warm wine and still enjoyed the experience because of the ambience and the friendliness of a waiter. People can make all the difference. Miserable and unreasonable people can be found at both sides of service and while I don’t believe anyone can be a bully and hide behind “the customer is always right”, in today’s world, it is important to look at the customer as more than the person standing in front of you, cash/card/phone in hand. Business today does not look like it did when our grandparents taught us that line, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be applied to our world of business today.