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How “The Customer is Always Right” is Hurting Your Business

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of clients.”
  • The customer is always right.

You’ve likely heard the statement thousands of times, especially if you’ve ever worked in or around customer service. It is often touted as one of the unwritten rules of business that all companies should aspire to adhere to. Yet, there are inherent problems and consequences that arise from applying this concept to your business.

Employee Dissatisfaction

The most detrimental downside to the customer-is-always-right mentality is that by putting customers first, you are putting your employees second. This mentality also creates an environment that can psychologically pit employees against customers and management against employees.

Think about it this way: when you tell your employees that the customer is always right, it means that under no circumstances can the employee be right if they disagree with the customer. This quickly leads to an atmosphere where employees feel forced to endure impolite and disrespectful behavior, which is an instant morale killer.

The more practical and strategic plan is to put your employees first, not the customer. This shift in practice and company culture builds a strong, united team, which in turn creates more employee happiness and engagement, which, in the long run, will lead to a better customer experience.

This notion has been captured time and time again by successful business minds. According to founder and CEO of the Virgin group, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of clients.” There have even been entire books dedicated to the topic, such as The Customer Comes Second: Put Your People First and Watch Them Kick Butt by Hal F. Rosenstein, current CEO of New Ocean Health Solutions. In sum, happy employees will deliver excellent customer service, so focus on your employees first.

Drain on Resources

Simply stated, some customers are bad for business. There is a tendency to believe that any customer is a customer worth having but that just isn’t the case. There is such a thing as a customer that is more trouble than they’re worth.

First and foremost, bad customers zap the energy of customer service employees. They also tend to be the clients that insist their issue be escalated to a manager or higher position until they get the result they want. This takes up time and energy from employees at all levels. Further, there are some customers who are simply never satisfied and/or use a company’s customer-centric promises to get things for free or at a discount.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t have a customer-centered maxim at the core of your business. There are two vital human elements that your business cannot operate without and that you must consider: customers and employees. The trick is to make sure your employees are receiving at least as much consideration as your customers, not less.

Whatever official rules of conduct your business may enact in terms of customer service, make sure it empowers employees and addresses how to ensure you do not allow bad customers to detract from your business. One such stance may be “the customer isn’t always right but, they will always be treated with respect.” Even if that means respectfully telling them you no longer want their business.

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