What to Do When the Customer Is Not Right

31 Jul 2017 By: Jacklin Altman


In the world of customer service, the mantra “the customer is always right” has been deeply ingrained. It is a belief that puts the customer’s needs and desires above all else, even if it means bending over backwards to please them. However, this approach, although well-intentioned, can sometimes be misleading.

Discover effective strategies for handling challenging customer situations in this insightful article.

Understanding the Myth: “The Customer is Always Right”

Origins of the Customer Service Mantra

The idea that the customer is always right dates back to the early 20th century when Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of the iconic Selfridges department store in London, coined the phrase as a means of prioritizing customer satisfaction. Selfridge believed that by placing the customer at the center of the business, success would naturally follow. His revolutionary approach to customer service set a new standard in the retail industry and quickly gained popularity among businesses worldwide.

Selfridge’s philosophy was rooted in the belief that customers hold the power to shape the success or failure of a business. By valuing their opinions, addressing their needs, and going above and beyond to meet their expectations, companies could build strong customer loyalty and gain a competitive edge in the market.

Why This Approach Can Be Misleading

While prioritizing customer satisfaction is essential for any successful business, blindly following the belief that the customer is always right can have its downsides. It is important to recognize that customers, like any other individuals, can sometimes be mistaken or unreasonable in their demands.

Unrealistic Expectations:

By adhering strictly to the notion that the customer is always right, businesses may find themselves facing unrealistic expectations. Customers may demand products or services that are beyond the scope of what the company can reasonably provide. This can put undue pressure on employees and strain the resources of the business, potentially leading to disappointment on both sides.


Another challenge that arises from this approach is the potential for misunderstandings. Customers may have certain expectations or preferences that are not effectively communicated to the business. Conversely, employees may misinterpret customer requests, leading to a mismatch between what the customer wants and what the business delivers. These misunderstandings can result in dissatisfaction and frustration for both parties involved.

Toleration of Abusive or Disrespectful Behavior:

While the customer should always be treated with respect and courtesy, blindly accepting the notion that the customer is always right can lead to the toleration of abusive or disrespectful behavior. In extreme cases, this can create a toxic work environment for employees and compromise their well-being. It is important for businesses to establish clear boundaries and policies to protect their employees from such situations.

Striking a Balance:

Instead of blindly adhering to the belief that the customer is always right, businesses should strive to strike a balance between customer satisfaction and the well-being of their employees. This involves actively listening to customer feedback, addressing their concerns, and finding mutually beneficial solutions. It also means empowering employees to make decisions and providing them with the necessary support and training to handle challenging customer interactions.

In conclusion, while the mantra “the customer is always right” has its origins in a genuine desire to prioritize customer satisfaction, it is important for businesses to approach it with caution. By recognizing the potential pitfalls and striving for a balanced approach, companies can create a positive and sustainable customer service culture that benefits both customers and employees.

Identifying Situations Where the Customer Isn’t Right

When it comes to customer service, the old saying “the customer is always right” is often emphasized. However, there are instances where this statement doesn’t hold true. In this article, we will explore some common situations where the customer’s expectations, behavior, or understanding may not align with what is reasonable or feasible for a business.

Unrealistic Expectations

Customers can sometimes have unrealistic expectations, expecting perfection and flawless service at all times. While it is natural for customers to desire the best possible experience, there are limits to what a business can provide. They may demand unreasonable discounts, refunds, or special treatment that goes beyond what is reasonable or feasible for a business.

For example, a customer may expect a full refund for a product they have used extensively for months, without any valid reason for dissatisfaction. In such cases, businesses need to manage these expectations effectively, explaining their policies and limitations while finding a mutually satisfactory solution.

Misunderstandings and Miscommunications

In any customer interaction, miscommunications can arise. Customers may misinterpret information or make assumptions that are not aligned with the business’s policies or capabilities. These misunderstandings can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction.

For instance, a customer may believe they are entitled to a service that is not actually offered by the business or misunderstand the terms and conditions of a purchase. In such situations, it is crucial to address and clarify these misunderstandings promptly to prevent further escalation and dissatisfaction. Clear communication and active listening can help bridge the gap and find a resolution that satisfies both parties.

Abusive or Disrespectful Behavior

Unfortunately, there are times when customers resort to abusive or disrespectful behavior towards customer service representatives. This can range from verbal insults to threats and harassment. While it is essential to provide excellent customer service, it is equally important to prioritize the well-being and safety of employees.

Businesses should establish procedures to handle these difficult interactions, ensuring that employees feel supported and protected. This may involve training customer service representatives on de-escalation techniques, providing them with the authority to involve a supervisor when necessary, or even implementing a zero-tolerance policy for abusive behavior.

By addressing abusive or disrespectful behavior, businesses can maintain a healthy work environment and ensure that their employees can continue to provide exceptional service to all customers.

Navigating Difficult Customer Interactions

When faced with a challenging customer, it is crucial for customer service representatives to maintain professionalism. They should remain calm, empathetic, and composed, even in the face of hostility. By doing so, they can diffuse tense situations and maintain a positive image for the company.

One effective strategy for maintaining professionalism is to actively listen to the customer’s concerns. This involves giving them your full attention, making eye contact, and nodding to show that you understand their perspective. By actively listening, you can demonstrate empathy and make the customer feel heard and valued.

In addition to active listening, providing clear explanations is another important aspect of effective communication. When addressing a difficult customer’s concerns, it is essential to use simple and concise language to ensure that they fully understand the information being conveyed. This can help alleviate any confusion or misunderstandings and contribute to a more positive interaction.

Furthermore, offering viable solutions is crucial in addressing customer concerns and minimizing dissatisfaction. Customer service representatives should strive to provide options that are realistic and feasible within the company’s capabilities. By doing so, they can demonstrate a proactive approach to problem-solving and show the customer that their concerns are being taken seriously.

Building rapport and showing genuine concern can also go a long way in turning a negative experience into a positive one. Customer service representatives should aim to establish a connection with the customer by finding common ground or shared experiences. This can help create a sense of trust and understanding, leading to a more productive conversation and a higher likelihood of resolving the issue at hand.

While it is important to meet customer needs, there are times when requests may fall outside the boundaries of what a business can reasonably provide. It is essential to tactfully communicate these limitations and offer alternative solutions when possible. Saying no can be difficult, but it is sometimes necessary to maintain the integrity and sustainability of the business.

In conclusion, navigating difficult customer interactions requires customer service representatives to maintain professionalism, employ effective communication strategies, and set boundaries when necessary. By doing so, they can not only address customer concerns but also contribute to the overall success and reputation of the company.

Implementing Company Policies to Support Staff

Importance of Clear Policies

Having clear policies and guidelines in place is vital for supporting staff when dealing with difficult customers. These policies should outline acceptable behavior, escalation procedures, and steps to take in extreme cases. They provide a framework for employees to navigate challenging interactions with confidence and clarity.

Training Staff for Difficult Situations

Providing comprehensive training to customer service representatives is essential for equipping them with the skills and strategies needed to handle difficult situations. Training should include topics such as conflict resolution, de-escalation techniques, and self-care practices to ensure staff feel supported and empowered in their roles.

Fostering a Supportive Work Environment

A supportive work environment is crucial for the well-being of customer service representatives. Encouraging open communication, recognizing their efforts, and providing opportunities for growth and development can boost morale and resilience. When staff feels valued and supported, they are better equipped to handle challenging customers effectively.

In conclusion, while the customer’s satisfaction is paramount in any business, blindly following the belief that the customer is always right can lead to detrimental outcomes. Identifying situations where the customer isn’t right and implementing strategies to navigate these interactions is vital for maintaining professional relationships and supporting staff. By fostering a supportive work environment and having clear policies in place, businesses can ensure their employees feel empowered and confident in handling challenging customer interactions.

Understanding that the customer isn’t always right is just the first step. The next is ensuring you have a team that can expertly navigate these complex situations. With HelpSquad BPO, you gain access to a dedicated, bilingual team ready to provide exceptional customer support and virtual assistance around the clock. Starting at only $8.50 per hour, our professionals can enhance your customer service experience and take on those back-office tasks, freeing you to focus on what you do best. Ready to transform your customer service approach and boost your business efficiency? Start your trial with HelpSquad BPO today and experience the difference for yourself.

Customer Service
Small Business