The Customer is Always Right: True or False?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “the customer is always right.”  It was originally adopted by Harry Gordon Selfridge of London’s Selfridge Department Store in 1909, but is commonly attributed to Marshall Field’s Department Store in Chicago.  Large and small businesses alike, have taken this motto to mean that it is essential to give a high priority to customer service.  True.

Excellent customer service is paramount to the growth and success of all businesses.  Easy enough.  Of course, you’re not going to spend your money at a business if you’re treated poorly or unfairly.  You won’t be a repeat customer if the experience is bad.  But should the literal translation of this phrase be adopted in the business world?  Does this blanket statement give a customer the right to make unreasonable demands of a business if something doesn’t go their way?  Is the customer ALWAYS right?  False.

Last week, I wrote a post titled, A Letter to the Competition, in which I explained how I’m not in the barre class business, but instead, we are actually in the client experience business.  And while I was beating my chest telling everyone how focused on customer service we are at my studios, I received a customer survey response from someone, who had just taken her first class the day before, telling me, in not so many words, how much my studio sucked, how much my teachers sucked, and how much I sucked at operating my business.  Basically, nothing we did had met her expectations from the cleanliness of the studio, to the way the teacher taught the class, to how much money classes cost, and then to top it all off, there was a personal dig at me.  Sweet.

So, here’s the thing.  I was the one who had the most contact with this individual.  She had called the day before to inquire about classes and asked all the usual questions including what to expect during class, what to wear, as well as class package options and how much taking class would cost.  I answered and went through my whole pitch.  The next morning, she took class.  While I didn’t teach the class, I was at the front desk working, and talked to her after.  I am confident that she was given the same great service we strive to give all of our new and existing clients … because, well, I followed my own customer service procedures.

Bill Gates has been quoted as saying, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”  I completely agree.  After receiving her survey response, I followed up with this individual and learned that she wanted free classes to make up for her terrible experience.  I thought about this and ultimately decided not to grant her request because giving her free classes would not change any of the complaints that had made her time in my studio so terrible.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure why she would want to come back based on the litany of “offenses” we had committed against her.

But since I’ve made this decision, I’ve been thinking a lot more about whether the customer is always right, or if there are times when they just aren’t.  It seems there are some people you just don’t want as customers and here’s why:

1. Some customers take up all of your time.

Oh man.  Customers who complain non-stop take up so much time—like hours and hours each week that could have been used to work with your team or for you to spend more time with your best customers, or frankly have more time off and away from your business.  And it’s draining to try and make someone happy who will never be happy.  I need a drink just thinking about it.

2. Some customers create a rift between you and your employees.

This is a big problem.  You spend a lot of time, effort and resources to give your employees customer service training and the ability to solve problems.  Some customers ultimately create a rift between you and your employees.  As soon as the phrase “I want to talk to the owner” is uttered, the employee can no longer take care of this customer’s problem and you have to, which is fine–don’t get me wrong, happy to help.  However, if when you make contact with this customer, you don’t side with your employee, you’ve just created a problem between you and your employee.  I’d rather have my amazing team intact and working hard then have my team quit and be left with a group of unruly customers that I can never make happy.

3. Some customers actually create bad customer service.

If you constantly side with customers rather than employees, you send the message that your employees aren’t important and they aren’t to be respected.  When your employees think you don’t care about them or that they aren’t valuable, how well do you think they’ll be treating your customers?  Not that well.  If this continues, other customers will learn to treat your employees with little respect to get what they want.  It’s really a terrible circle.

While “unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning,” it doesn’t mean they are “always right.”

What have I learned from this experience?  It is important to have a high standard of customer service, but some people will never be satisfied no matter how much you try to please them and it’s ok if those people don’t become long-term clients of your business.

A few days later, I got another survey response from someone, who had recently taken their first class, was confused, and didn’t think they were doing the workout correctly.  I followed up with her and offered her a free week of class as well as time with a teacher before her next class to go over some techniques to help her get the most out of her classes.  She’s coming back to the studio next week and was very appreciative.

It’s important to hire the right team to fit your business culture.  It’s also important to find the right clients.  I’m confident if we keep doing the things we’re known for, providing a great client experience, a positive and welcoming environment, and a clean studio we’ll keep attracting clients who value those things and make Pure Barre a great place to workout.  And I’m not going to beat myself up if someone, who doesn’t share what we value, doesn’t stick around.

There are really two seasons for me as a Pure Barre studio owner: Ugg/Boot Season and Flip-Flop Season.  And we’re heading into Flip-Flop Season so I’ll share with you the new flips I’ve just ordered.

Until then, stay on your toes!

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