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“The Customer is Always Right”, right? NO they are NOT!!!

Now I fully accept that the customer being right is a really good place to start – but, to be honest, sometimes they’re just WRONG.

But it’s not just about whether they are right or wrong – it’s mostly about how you are going to respond and what, if anything, are you going to do to remedy the situation.

Let me share with you a true story…

I number of years ago, when I was CEO of a company back in the UK, we had a mid-sized customer who we never seemed to please. There was always something wrong. Either the order arrived 30 minutes late or we missed one item out of a hundred from the order because we were out of stock and didn’t tell them beforehand or one of said one hundred items was priced incorrectly.

You know – the kind of stuff we all strive to get right every time but, because we’re human, we don’t always succeed.

And this customer always went ballistic and my team were scared witless every time we made a delivery – wondering who was the unlucky soul who was going to get “the call” this week

One Wednesday afternoon, Carol, one of my very best team members came to me in tears and after a few minutes to compose herself told me that she was that unlucky one this week. And that the complaint had been even more trivial than usual.

To say I was furious would be the biggest understatement since Noah said, “It looks like rain” – I tried counting to ten and some deep breathing. Then I tried a hundred…

Then I had something of an epiphany and did something I had, up to that point, never done before – I picked up the phone and called George, the now infamous “customer”.

The conversation went something like this: –

“Hi George, its Alan Slater at XXXX. George, as I hope you know, we’ve always valued your business but it appears that we’re not living up to your high expectations. We do try our very best and still we’re falling short. And, to be honest, I really do not appreciate my team having to put up with verbal abuse from you virtually every week. So I thank you for all the business we have done together but I would appreciate it if you would take your business elsewhere”

Predictably there was a spluttering sound from the other end followed by lots of “You can’t…”s and “But I…”s and when he left a gap of more than one nanosecond I interrupted and closed the conversation with, “The damage is done George and there’s no going back. Good bye”

I turned to Carol, who had witnessed the whole conversation, and told her that I hoped that would resolve the situation. She gave me a stunned look, whispered thank you and left my office.

I had never sacked a customer before and I wasn’t at all sure that “Thank you” was what I could expect from the Board at their meeting the following week…

But when I left my office about half an hour later I was greeted by a huge cheer from ALL the staff, who thanked me for removing a very significant thorn from their sides. And, as an unexpected bonus, staff morale went through the roof and our overall customer service improved significantly over the following weeks and months.

I don’t advocate sacking customers willy nilly – but there does come a point (and you’ll know it when you see it!) when you know that you’re NEVER going to be able to keep this customer happy. And if you can’t keep them happy and they are intent on sharing their misery with your team (who deal well with every other customer!) – then why would you keep them at all…???…!!!

“The Customer is Always Right” is, as I said earlier, a good place to start – but when they are wrong (consistently) you cannot and should not expend energy trying to keep them at the expense of staff morale.

This same customer is likely to take their business elsewhere to save 0.1% or three nanoseconds on delivery at some point. And your team will be there, dealing with ALL your customers – every day!

Maybe we should introduce a national “Sack a Customer Day”…???