Customers are the lifeblood for every business, and their satisfaction, without a doubt, should go on top of your priority list.

These people trust you with their money, refer your company to their friends, return to shop with you again, and… are always right.

Wait, are they, though?

Sometimes, companies go to ridiculous extents to meet every customer's need. And while it may help at that particular moment, it can do more harm than good long-term.  

Let’s go through some points that can help us find out whether or not the customer is always right and how to succeed at balancing customer and business needs.

The customer is always right: who said it and what does it mean?

First of all, who said that the customer is always right?

The famous business catchphrase – the customer is always right – can be traced back to the beginning of 1900 (1909 to be more specific) when an American retail magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge made this the go-to policy for his business.

Some prefer earlier variations, like César Ritz’s “the customer is never wrong” (1908), which basically means the same thing and still shows that this was a popular approach back then.

So does it really mean that you should blindly accept everything your customers say, do, or demand?

Well… Not really.

What Selfridge likely meant by this is that the customer is special and must be treated that way. Although the quote is more than 100 years old, it is still very relevant in today's business environment but possesses some risks to the business itself if followed unconditionally. Because obviously, sometimes customers are wrong, it’s just how it is.

However, even when they are wrong and you know it, your goal is to make them feel right.

4 reasons why “the customer is always right” is actually wrong

Since we’ve already established that the customer isn’t always right (but is very important and special!), let's dive deeper into why treating customers like they are never wrong can damage your business.

1. It puts your employees under stress

First of all, a customer is not the only one in this "relationship," conversation, issue, or whatever it is that you need to get resolved. Your customer support team is a part of it as well, and it also plays a crucial role for your business.

When you never question customers, you risk (maybe unintentionally) downgrading your employees. This can affect their loyalty, motivation to do their best, and overall team morale.

“Customer is always right” attitude makes you take the side of customers no matter what, even if you’re dealing with the most intolerable and unreasonable people. Although it’s still important to treat the customer right, you should draw the line when it becomes not worth the risk of losing the people who work every day to provide the highest quality customer service, increasing sales and customer retention.

2. Some customers are simply wrong

One of the most common reasons why customers get angry or disappointed is that the product or service does not meet their expectations. Expectations that they've created themselves, even though there can be nothing wrong with how you described things.

The thing is – no one else knows better how your products should work and how your business should operate. Going the extra mile for a clearly unreasonable customer who demands ridiculous solutions just doesn't make sense.

Therefore, it’s important to learn how to handle it. Because if you accept the “mistake” that you haven’t really made, you may face even more issues in the future.

3. It’s bad for your customer service quality

This one is closely related to your employees being under pressure because of the need to follow every customer's demand blindly. When there are pressure and stress, the workplace doesn’t sound as happy anymore.

As a result, your frontline employees – the customer support team – might start feeling lost, overwhelmed, and less willing to even interact with customers or try to finish the conversation as quickly as possible.

Whatever the case, the team that isn't happy and doesn't feel supported by the management can't perform 100%. Sooner or later, it will harm your customer service quality, likely causing more support-related complaints or even customer loss that you definitely don't want.

4. Not all customers are worth keeping

The general understanding about acquiring and keeping customers is usually the more, the better – which sounds logical since they generate your revenue.

However, when dealing with angry customers or those who always find something to complain about, it's crucial to find the right balance between keeping them satisfied and the long-term impact doing it at all costs might have on your business. In other words, you want to keep your customers satisfied but profitably.

High-maintenance customers who always want special treatment, constantly reach out after purchase, keep returning or exchanging the items they buy, cost your team time and energy. Therefore, you have to evaluate whether or not you’re losing more money than you get from them, and is it worth going the extra mile for shoppers that won't likely appreciate it anyway.

How to make your customers feel right

If you find yourself in a situation when a customer is technically wrong, but you still want to keep them, there are things you can do to help them feel right.

  • Listen. One of the most essential customer service skills is ensuring that the customer knows that you hear them. And not just hear them but also understand the situation and get how they feel. In most cases, reassurance can even be half the solution to the problem you’re facing.
  • Don’t argue. Arguing with a customer and trying to prove yourself right can only make things worse. However, don’t rush into taking the fault as well. In such situations, mention the importance of solving the issue and set specific expectations (when they can expect it to be done). It will make customers feel cared for.
  • Be empathetic. Empathy in customer service can go – and usually goes – a long way. Gently handling a demanding customer can slowly reduce the tension and help you turn an uncomfortable situation into something you can handle easily.

It’s all about the balance

All in all, saying that the customer is always right or that they are never wrong isn't a statement that relies on only one opinion.

Customer service is of utmost importance in today’s business environment, and it’s crucial to seek customer satisfaction. If this makes sense for your business growth – follow every customer demand. If you feel that it does more damage than good, it’s time for a change.

Or in other words, seek to make customers happy, yet don't compromise your team and/or company resources. Find the right balance between these two, and you should soon be able to enjoy the results of your sometimes not so easy decisions.