The late Harry Gordon Selfridge was credited in his day as a trailblazer in consumer satisfaction that revolutionized the retail industry. Mr. Selfridge cornered the market years ago with the whole notion of great customer service by any means necessary. According to an article found in the Chicago Tribune on March 28, 2014 entitled, “Mr. Selfridge: The Man Who Invented Retail Therapy”, Selfridge took great stock in how he treated his customers which fundamentally set the stage for superior customer service. This concept was adopted as a best business practice most retailers still use today…thus the idea of the customer is always right — a phrase he likely coined. While this concept made great strides in the success of consumer retail purchasing, it has also been a disruption in reshaping the psyche of the consumer.
Some customers have developed a false sense of power in demanding what they want at any expense other then their own.
A personal story:
Several years ago, I worked for a car rental company that has most certainly built their reputation on pleasing their customers to the fullest extent.
It’s Christmas time and the office was filled with none less than about 20 customers. I proceeded to pick up a customer that all other co-workers avoided due to previous bad encounters unbeknownst to me. On the drive back to the office, the customer and I had a great conversation and all seemed well in the land. As we reached the office, I sat the customer down and began to go through my normal process of setting up a rental contract. She did not have a credit card which was no problem. I proceeded to explain to her our process for “Cash Qualifying” customers. To my surprise, she jumped up, began cursing at me and threatened me with bodily harm if I didn’t put her into a rental without going through a bunch of (expletives). I calmly tried to take control of the situation by explaining to the customer that I am happy to help her if we could just sit down and discuss her options for a rental. She continued in her belligerence and started toward me to further emphasize her point. To avoid any physical contact, I proceeded to the manager’s office who could hear the entire exchange but never came to my defense. Instead, he said he would take over the rental and totally went against the policy that we were taught just to quiet her down. He put her into a rental and sent her on her way. I was angered and flabbergasted all at the same time. Was the customer right? What message did that also send to the other 20 customers who witnessed this awful display? Shortly thereafter, I resigned my position since I no longer felt safe or protected in my work environment. This is a job where I received numerous awards and recognition for both customer service and sales. By all accounts, I was one of their star employees.
I have worked several customer service jobs throughout my career and have always been told that the customer is always right. However, from my first job at the age of 16 until now I have unapologetically disagreed. Having said that, exceptional customer service has always been one of my greatest strengths and an asset to my career. The confrontation with that out of control customer further solidified my point that the customer indeed is not always right.
I am all for the normal processes of trying to please a patron, however, when threats and unhealthy behavior is exhibited, there should be no tolerance for customers who behave egregiously in effort to get their way. Therefore, this dispels the notion that customers are always right. We have to recondition consumers to know that yes, they are indeed important and a priority. However, this does not give license to aggressive, disrespectful and contentious behavior in order to ensure their satisfaction. The notion that the customer is always right trains customers to think that the universe rises and sets on their existence regardless of circumstance. This is not a good practice. If all customers have to do is just throw a tantrum to get their way regardless of policies, procedures and appropriate protocol, this not only undermines businesses, it also can potentially place employees in unnecessary harms way.
Here a few tidbits I would like to offer that I have learned over the years as both an employee and a consumer. These are solely based on my personal experiences and not from anyone else’s books or methodology.
Lessons for Employees and Management:
Step #1 – Give customers what they pay for and/or what your advertisement suggests and make every effort to be as helpful as possible. Try not to ever tell a customer no, but instead try to offer alternatives and solutions.
Step #2 – Treat customers with respect and a sense of importance and appreciation for their patronage.
Step #3 – Diffuse potential contentious situations by not using buzz words that set customers off such as: I don’t know! This is not my area! Can you come back later, I’m busy right now. There is no one here to help you right now.
Step #4 – Do not argue with customers especially not in front of other customers.
Step #5 – Do not argue with employees in front of customers.
Step #6 – Listen to the customers’ complaint before offering a response to make sure you understand the need or problem.
Step #7 – Never, Never, Never condone a customer’s disrespect to your staff.
Step #8 – Never, Never, Never condone an employee’s disrespect to your business or customers.
Step #9 – Properly train staff on providing exceptional customer service and remedies for unhappy customers. Always have a plan B for situations that customer service policies do not address.
Step #10 – Never mistreat a customer or make assumptions based on someone’s race of perceived intelligence level due to appearance.
Step #11 – Do not take out personal or professional frustrations on customers. Take a break until you cool off. The customer should not be made privy to what should have been handled privately.
Step #1 – Know that there are situations where you may not be right.
Step #2 – RESPECTFULLY demand what you pay for if the business/establishment has not fulfilled their responsibility.
Step #3 – Be gracious to new trainees, you just never know how that may work to your benefit.
Step #4 – Expect exceptional customer service and provide feedback for anything less.
Step #5 – Make a concerted effort to reward exceptional customer service by writing a letter, making a phone call or asking to speak with management.
Step #6 – Never walk away unhappy without any effort to make concerns known to management.
Step #7 – Smile and use your manners. Say please and thank you as often as possible. After all, isn’t that what we teach the kids.
Step #8 – Never mistreat an employee because of their race or perceived intelligence level based on appearances.
Step #9 – Do not over assume your importance over another customer due to your income level.
Step #10 – Apologize if you get it wrong!!!
Step #11 – Do not take out personal or professional frustrations on staff and businesses. Try to clear your head before entering an establishment. Your personal issues should not be visited on others to vent your frustrations.
I learned early on as both a consumer and employee how important it is to use customer service as a beneficial resource and not a psychological noose around the necks of businesses. I have mastered the art of making my customers feel valued without devaluing myself or the business at hand. Exceptional customer service cannot be undermined by the consumer or the business but instead used as a bartered tool for services rendered and received.
Blessings and Inspiration,
Shannon Ayers Speaks