Why The Customer Is Not Always Right And Why It Doesn't Matter

The customer may not always be right, but here's why you should treat them as if they are.
CEO, Trackur
July 25, 2011

Just how pervasive is the cliche "the customer is always right" in business? Well, a quick Google search reveals more than 3 million matching Web pages containing that exact phrase. If you buy into the the "wisdom of the crowds," you're probably wondering why in the world only your business ended up with a lot of "wrong" customers.

Here's the secret that many business owners are afraid to admit: the customer is not always right. In fact, some customers are so wrong, you sometimes feel like a fired-up baseball umpire that just wants to get in the face of your customers and scream at them just how wrong they are.

Aargh!

Okay, deep breath. That was cathartic, right?

So now that we've acknowledged that the customer is not, in fact, always right, why is this adage so popular? Well, aside from giving your customers a warm and fuzzy feeling about your business, it's the implied meaning that's made the saying a part of many corporate mission statements.

You see, the customer is not always right. But, and it's a big "but," the customer always thinks they are right. That's what's important to remember. There may be many incidents where you know that the customer is 100 percent wrong, and couldn't be any more wrong if their name was Mr. W. Rong from Wrongsville, Wronginham.

The key is to swallow your pride and look beyond the need for you to justify your company's actions. I'll give you two examples: one where I was the "right" business and another, where I was the "wrong" customer.

At Trackur, we have a pretty generous money-back guarantee for a software company. Try our social media monitoring tools and you can cancel for ANY reason inside of your first 10 days and we'll give you your money back. No questions asked. Still, we get the occasional user that waits until Day 55 before asking for a refund. While we have a very clearly spelled out refund policy, they end up trying to charge back their payment, or open a payment dispute with PayPal.

This is usually the point that my blood starts to boil. Then, I think about the time and effort needed to dispute their claim. I can provide documentation that would make my case so air-tight that even Perry Mason would be proud, but here's my dilemma: The customer thinks they are right. Delusional? Maybe. Dangerous, absolutely! By winning the dispute, I could potentially further upset a customer that, sincerely or not, believes they are right. Am I prepared to fight any smear campaign they wage on Twitter? Do I want to be distracted by a legal letter? Not at all. Better to accept that the customer has the right to believe they are right, and just make the refund.

And that's the approach Crutchfield.com took with me. To make a long story short, I purchased a new car stereo and also paid for installation of said stereo. I had interpreted the conditions of the install, to include all of the parts that were needed to actually install it. In actual fact, the small print did include wording to the contrary. Still, I felt misled by Crutchfield. After a few tweets, e-mails, and some general huffing and puffing, a customer-savvy support agent used Twitter to reach out to me. Crutchfield sent me the needed parts for free. It cost the company less than $15 to stop me from taking my delusions of injustice to the masses. I wasn't technically right, but they treated me as though I was.

Remember, the customer is not always right. But let's just keep that between you and me, shall we? Treat your customers the way you would want to be treated—even if you knew you were not right—and your business will flourish because word of mouth will treat you well and you won't get distracted by the Mr. W. Rong's of the world.

CEO, Trackur