Customer Satisfaction

The Customer is Always Right... Right?

Posted by Stacey Papp

We’ve all heard the phrase, “the customer is always right”. It was popularized by retailers at the turn of the 20th century and reflected an attitude change from the previously standard approach of “Let the buyer beware,” shifting the onus of ensuring customer satisfaction from the buyer to the seller. Most modern businesses with any customer-facing applications carry on the tradition started by those retailers more than a century ago and aim to provide service that makes the customer feel valued, creating loyalty and bringing new business via recommendations.

Of course, it’s an open secret in the business world that – gasp! – the customer is not always right. The point isn’t really who is right and who is wrong, however, but how the situation is handled. The below “dos and don’ts” can help you deal with a customer who is unhappy (but maybe not entirely blameless) in a way that will preserve your relationship and leave the customer feeling good about your business. 


Listen, sympathize and be polite. Even if you know the concern is not valid as soon as the customer starts start talking, let him voice his complaint without interruption. When your customer is done talking, use a respectful, non-confrontational tone when responding. You don’t need to agree with every single thing he says as long as you assure him you understand his perspective.

Apologize, even if it’s not your fault. This can be a tough one, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and say, “I’m sorry,” even if you know your business was not at fault. Sometimes hearing those words is all a customer really wants.

Find a solution. Even if the customer is wrong, you should find some way to resolve her complaint, whether that’s replacing a product or returning for a follow-up service. It may cost time and money, but a dissatisfied customer may cost more in the long run if she tells all her friends about her poor experience and lack of resolution.

Have the last word. You may have resolved the situation, but the interaction isn’t over. A follow-up phone call or email to ask if your customer is happy with the resolution is the right way to “have the last word” and will show you care about customer satisfaction.

Lose your temper. We live in a world ruled by review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, and these have far greater reach than traditional word-of-mouth in the pre-Internet days. Even if you are tempted to tell a customer off, take a deep breath and contain your emotions. Becoming irate at a customer is not a good business practice, and is almost guaranteed to spur him to type out a one-star review about how poorly he was treated.

Get into the nitty-gritty of proving them wrong. Even if your customer is 100 percent no-doubt-about-it just plain wrong, you don’t need to prove it to her. Sometimes it’s better to just ask, “What can we do to make it right?” and turn the focus away from a problem that isn’t really your fault to finding a resolution.

Promise something you can’t deliver. While you should definitely try to reach a conclusion the customer is pleased with, you shouldn’t offer something that is out of the realm of possibility for your business or staff – this is where compromise comes in. If the customer is asking for something that is truly not related to your business and you can’t fulfill his request, it’s OK to gently say that, and offer to refer him to another service provider or associate who can. 

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