No.The Customer is Not Always Right!


Does this article caption seem like sacrilege? Especially in the context of all the cacophony of narratives that float around viz Customer Service, Customer Delight, Customer Centricity, Customer Experience, Customer Journey...and all of that and more.

Over time, we have transgressed(not so effortlessly) from mass to mass customisation to personalisation to customer segment of one. And somewhere in between there is the Long Tail effect as well that encourages more granularity when it comes to addressing customers.

The phrase “ The customer is always right ” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London.Business was different, expectations were certainly so and organised retail was only at the embryonic stage. This line is typically used by businesses to convince customers that they will get good service at this company and convince employees to give customers good service.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of bad employees giving lousy customer service( the United Airlines incident last year involving a passenger last year stands out like a sore thumb) but trying to solve this by declaring the customer “always right” is counter-productive.

CEO Hal Rosenbluth(owner of Rosenbluth Corporate Travel, since acquired by American Express) wrote an excellent book about their approach called Put The Customer Second – Put your people first and watch’em kick butt. Rosenbluth argues that when you put the employees first, they put the customers first. It’s a chain reaction, often overlooked by organisations and brands.

In his book Customer CentricityPeter Fader(Marketing Professor at Wharton & Co-Director,The Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative) encourages business owners to focus on the customers who matter most: “Not all customers deserve your company’s best efforts. And despite what the old adage says, the customer is most definitely not always right. Because in the world of customer centricity, there are good customers…and then there is everybody else.”

To borrow the experience that Tim Ferris(author of the wildly popular The Four Hour Work Week book) where he realised he was spending far too much time attending to customers who were contributing very little to revenues but causing high amount of stress, only to recalibrate his energies and attention to customers that warranted it best.

Haven’t we heard this before: “The customer is always right, except when they’re wrong—and then, it’s our fault”.

A more balanced way of looking at it would be to respect the customer, as it’s not about who’s right; it’s about what’s best for your company and the customer together. It takes two to tango.

Another example was when Toblerone changed the shape of their iconic chocolate bars, customers went absolutely bananas. It wasn’t that the new shape of the bars was bad, per se. It was just different, and people HATE different. Customers like to maintain the norm.The status quo, be in the comfort zone..

When you make changes in your business, you will probably get some initial backlash, even if the change that you have made, is for the better. If you have the attitude that the customer is always right, you’ll never make healthy improvements to your business because the possibility of bad customer feedback will paralyse you.

Needless to say we all need to strive for excellent customer service, or delight or experience as the case may be. But, adopting a ‘ Customer is always right ‘ policy can end up actually hurting your business. You kill employee morale, empower rude customers, slow down innovation, and even create unhappy experiences for other customers.

A much better strategy would be to empower your team to make the right decisions. And, that would translate to” The Right Customer is Always Right “. That’s a much better place to be.


Image: ISD Global

Affluenza, Stuffocation and being Worldly Vice!

Let’s begin with what the Business Dictionary has to say about Affluenza(not to be mixed up with Influenza though the contagious capabilities are common to both):

1. A social condition that affects a society because of the elevated number of individuals striving to be wealthy. People within the society feel that the only measure of success is determined by how much money and prestige a person has.
2. A social theory claiming that individuals with very privileged and wealthy backgrounds sometimes struggle to determine the difference between right and wrong due to the nature of their upbringing. Also known as sudden-wealth syndrome.

Having done that, Stuffocation is defined by Macmillan’s Crowdsourced Open Dictionary as:

– a feeling of being oppressed by the amount of stuff you own. The problem in question is an anxiety christened stuffocation – a feeling of being oppressed by one’s ungovernable heap of belongings, acquisitions.

Affluenza( or Selfish Capitalism as author Oliver James would have called it in his book by the same name) has not just changed the world, it has also changed the way we see the world. The happy embrace of ‘ convenience ‘ and our reconciling to not being able to plan ahead is an entirely new way of thinking and over the past few decades we have built an economic system to accommodate it. A vast majority of humans(yes, us included, thankfully) would find the idea of using our scarce resources to produce things that are designed to be thrown away absolutely mad.
Consumerism(the love of buying things) can, by definition only provide a transient sense of satisfaction, the ‘ thrill of the chase ‘ or the ‘ after glow ‘ like walking down high street with your branded take away. The benefits of consumerism, as one can imagine is short lived as they are linked to the process of the purchase and not to the use of the product. Materialism(is the love of things themselves) is about owning and therefore there is a clear distinction from consumerism. Taken literally, they are polar opposites, though they are often used interchangeably.
We love things not for their material function but for the symbolic act of acquiring and possessing them.
Stuffocation (a term brilliantly coined by trend forecaster and author James Wallman who wrote a book on the subject) is to have more stuff than we could ever need – clothes we don’t wear, kit we don’t use and toys we don’t play with. How it’s cluttering up our homes,making us feel stuffocated and stressed and potentially killing us. Not to mention, how damaging it is for the planet. Our obsession with stuff can be traced back to the origin of the Mad Men who compellingly created desire through advertising (Remember Vance Packard’s famous book on advertising, The Hidden Persuaders).There is a clutter crisis and rampant materialism is being strongly linked to declining well being. The manifesto for change that the Stuffocation book articulates is to replace materialism with experientialism– instead of a new watch or a new car, maybe a holiday with friends and time with family. It advocates being healthier, happier and to do more with less.
To put it simply, if we want to reduce the impact on the natural environment of all the stuff we buy( and mind you we are almost 7.5 billion of all humanity, so that’s a whole lot of stuff and so much of it unneeded), we damn well hold onto them for far more longer. Maintain it, repair it, get more satisfaction from the things we already own, more satisfaction from leisure time and definitely less satisfaction from buying things. Affluenza is curable and has to be cured. So is materialism. The culture has to change. Let’s move on from worldly vice to worldly wise.
Less is indeed a lot more!