The Myth Of Customer Is Always Right

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A customer is right only when they have been informed of the policies and procedures of the business.

‘Customer is always right’ has been a mantra for the service industry to indicate that businesses should give the highest priority to the customers. It has been around for ages.

Of course, for any business, the customer is the main source of income. Without the customers, there will be no business.

Customers, on the other hand, would use this mantra to exert authority and power over the business.

I have seen with my own eyes how a waiter was shouted at by a customer who said, “Customer is always right!” and the poor waiter, not knowing what to do, obliged.

Over the years, those in the management field have realized that customer is not always right.

Having been in the service industry for almost three decades, I could relate to this realization. A customer is right only when they have been informed of the policies and procedures of the business.

Certain policies cannot be undone because they are requirements by Law. Customers must then be properly informed that if they do not obey the requirements, there will be legal consequences. Probably financial consequences as well.

There are also procedures which are part of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), used throughout the whole network of the organisation. Any change to the SOP must go through proper channels. Most importantly, the change must be approved by the top management and the revised SOP need to be signed off by an authorised personnel, usually the Chief Executive Officer or the Managing Director.

Otherwise, the staff who make any change without prior approval can be subjected to disciplinary action for misconduct. The department can also be subjected to Non-Compliance (NC) by the Auditors.

Once upon a time, when I was working in a shipping agency, I was asked by the Sales Executive to issue a document that showed “Kuala Lumpur” as the Port of Origin.

I told her I couldn’t do that because Kuala Lumpur is not a port. She then replied, “Customer is always right”. I had to disagree with her.

It is the responsibility of the management to ensure all respective individuals in relevant departments understand the rationale behind the policies and procedures so that they could provide the correct information to the customers.

Front liners should not only be given proper training on customer service, but they also need to be empowered with such information to properly respond to customers’ grievances.

In reality, customers do not care about the rationale. However, it would be good to at least provide them with an insight that such policies and procedures were set for their own benefit, rather than just a flat and undeserving “it’s the policy” or “I’m sorry, I was just doing my job” response.

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