The Customer Is ALWAYS Right… except when they are wrong

You have heard this little gem time and again. Taken literally, this statement is just plain false. No one is always right.

Now ask me if my customers are always right. Go on, I dare you. I’ll give you the same answer each time.

Respectfully, no.


In the US the department store Marshall Fields is closely associated with the phrase, “The customer is always right”,  and is often credited with coining it; even thought the concept was based on César Ritz’s statement back in 1908,  ‘Le client n’a jamais tort’ – “The customer is never wrong”.

The phase was never not intend to be taken literally. What they were attempting to do was to make the customer feel special by having their staff  behave as if the customer was right, even when they weren’t.


When dealing with customers you have to take their perspective, well-being as well as the relationship into account. This is where tact, intelligence and empathy play a large role in responding to a customer request, statement or argument in a manner that is successful for both parties. The often elusive, but highly prized win-win scenario. However I must note that if your customer is arguing with you there may be a basic issue with your  relationship; but that is another post.

Honesty, Balance, Candor, Integrity, Courtesy, Poise…

The list can continue on and on. Customers, internal or external, perception that you represent and execute all these things will make for a successful relationship. Friend, family or stranger can be substituted for customers(s) here as well. How we treat others will impact our relationship in either a positive, negative or neutral way.

Often when dealing with vendors (where I’m the customer) I find that the vendor’s response is to put the responsibility on the customer. I take no issue with this when the customer should be involved in the solution, where perhaps there is a learning curve.  Where I bristle is when the response is along the lines of “…working as designed” or “…work around that”. When a customer takes the time to point out a pain point in dealing with your service or product, take the time to listen and evaluate the need. Innovation comes from recognizing that the way things are can be improved. I have huge respect for vendors who come back and listen, evaluate and provide a response. This shows that while I may be dead wrong, the vendor  values our relationship and my time.

Customers who insist they are right and a company who backs them vs. their own employees when the situation calls for it…well they have this all wrong. Backing the customer at all costs is not, I repeat, not going to lead to better customer service. Employees deserve company loyalty, just as the company expects loyalty from the employee. Employees will provide excellent customer service when:

1. The company culture values employees

2. Basic customer service skills are taught to ensure that everyone is reading from the same song sheet.

3. Management supports the employee when a customer is belligerent, hostile or abusive.

So what do you think, was César Ritz right? Is the customer NEVER wrong?


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