Customer is Not Always Right, But is Never Wrong

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April 26, 2017 by Harry Stoll

Everyone has heard the old saying, The customer is always right.  This makes companies who say it—and the customers who hear it—feel good.  But it’s simply not always true in the real world, is it?

Considering the recent encounter Dr. David Dao had with United Airlines, it’s safe to say not all companies believe the customer is always right.  In fact, what United Airlines did was the opposite.  They not only proclaimed the good doctor was wrong, they called the police onto the airplane to beat him up and drag him off the plane to prove it.  Now United Airlines has an epic customer service disaster on their wings, so to speak. Not to mention a big lawsuit and a large dip in their stock price.  Customer service is so important.  It cannot be underestimated.

Early in my career while working for a rental car company, my district manager corrected me one day when I mentioned that old saying, The customer is always right. “Customers are not always right.  They’re just never wrong,” she said. This small, but important distinction has enabled me to approach customer service issues in a more productive manner.

Based upon my experience, I suggest following these steps to achieve mutually satisfactory resolution of issues arising from a company’s services.

  1. Listen first. Ask questions later.

Although it may sometimes seem hard to accomplish with an agitated, disappointed customer, employees need to listen and be sympathetic to the complaint.  Avoid becoming defensive as this will usually escalate the situation.  Then, ask questions to make sure you understand what the person thinks an acceptable resolution looks like. What’s their expectation? What could have (should have) your company done differently? Determine whether what happened was your company’s fault. Diligently uncovering the customer’s expectations and how they were not met, will let you understand the person’s position and help you determine a starting point for a resolution. From there, you will be able to figure out what to do next.

  1. Own your mistakes.

Owning your company’s mistakes is rule #1 for crisis communications.  If the company fell short in any way and the customer is upset, immediately acknowledge where the company failed.  This is important for demonstrating that you stand behind your service and want to make things right. If any part of a customer’s dissatisfaction does not pertain to the service that he or she could have reasonably expected you to provide, be sure to say this.  This doesn’t mean that you should hide behind the fine print of your conditions and terms.  However, if someone expected you to provide a service that you clearly don’t provide and did not promise, then point this out, while, perhaps, apologizing for the misunderstanding.  Providing a clearer understanding might give you a better chance at retaining that customer.

  1. Outline how you will make things right.

If possible, try to resolve any customer service issues on the spot.  Train employees to assess the situation and empower them to create a resolution without a manager’s approval.  If an unhappy customer can have their problem fixed, they become happiest when the problem is fixed immediately. If a frontline employee does not have the authority to compensate wronged customers, at least train them to assess the situation quickly so they can transfer them to the appropriate manager ASAP.  Don’t make your customers repeat their unhappy tale over and over.  This too will escalate an already bad situation.

  1. Everyone makes mistakes, but you don’t have to keep making them.

Once errors or mistakes have been identified make sure you and all of your employees learn from them.  Change processes or language in the contract if it is at all ambiguous.  If one person has a problem with it, chances are others will too.

Every business has had to deal with a dissatisfied customer at some point.  When navigating through this process, ask questions to identify exactly where service provided did not meet the expectation.  Communicate openly and admit to any of your mistakes or failure in delivering what you agreed to provide. Finally, resolve the issue by making a genuine effort to fairly compensate the customer for any inconvenience.

Remember, most people understand that mistakes happen.  The mistake itself probably won’t cost you the customer—however, how you respond can either make or break you.

Founded in 1950, United Credit Service, Inc. is a full service, licensed revenue cycle management and debt collection agency in Wisconsin providing effective, customized one on one management and recovery solutions for our business partners. Visit our website at, call 877-723-2902, or check out our YouTube video.


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