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Is the Customer Always Right? - Exploring the Age-Old Myth

Posted on

September 14th, 2023

An Examination of the Origins of this Adage

The phrase "The customer is always right" is a well-known mantra in the realm of business, often guiding customer service policies and practices. But where did this age-old adage originate, and what precisely does it signify? To delve into this, we must journey back in time to understand the origins of this belief.

The notion that the customer occupies an almost sacred position in the realm of commerce can be traced back to the early 20th century. It initially gained widespread recognition through the pioneering efforts of successful retailers such as Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of London's iconic Selfridge's department store. Selfridge's innovative approach to customer service helped popularise the concept that businesses should prioritise the satisfaction of their clients above all else.

This philosophy emerged during an era when retail was rapidly evolving, and a focus on customer satisfaction became a strategic differentiator. Selfridge firmly believed that by placing the customer's desires and needs at the forefront, businesses could not only thrive but also cultivate a loyal customer base. His approach resonated with both customers and fellow retailers, cementing the idea that customers should hold a special status within the marketplace.

Over time, this concept traversed the Atlantic to the United States and various African countries, where it became deeply ingrained in consumer culture. The phrase found its way into advertising campaigns, training manuals, and the ethos of businesses aiming to attract and retain customers.

Nonetheless, the history of this adage is not without contention. While it has been embraced by many businesses as a guiding principle, some argue that it oversimplifies the intricate dynamics of customer-business relationships. As we delve further into this age-old myth, we shall unravel the complexities behind "The customer is always right" and scrutinise its relevance in the modern business landscape.

The Application of this Myth in Contemporary Times

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Imagine this scenario: You are a salesperson who has endured an exceedingly long day at work. It is merely 30 minutes until closing time, and you are fatigued, eagerly anticipating the end of your shift. Suddenly, someone storms in. The door swings open with great force, and you look up to see an individual shouting at you at the top of their voice.

They wish to return an item they purchased a week ago because it has become damaged and soiled. You explain that regrettably, you cannot assist them, as your company's policy explicitly states that "Purchased Items Must Be Returned in Good Condition to Qualify for a Refund." They counter by asserting that it is due to your company's use of substandard materials that their purchase has deteriorated.

What course of action do you take?

To comprehend this myth fully, it is imperative to first acknowledge the symbiotic relationship between the Business and the Customer. Both are mutually dependent for their survival; there is no disputing that fact. However, does one of them depend on the other to a greater extent? If so, which one? Answering this question will address the unspoken dilemma.

The relationship a business shares with its customers is directly proportional to the financial well-being of the business. Customers depend on Businesses to meet their needs, and in turn, Businesses rely on customers to achieve their profit margins and targets. According to Business Insider, the practice of whether the Customer is right or wrong varies from one geographical location to another.

In many places, the customer is viewed as royalty and is treated accordingly. The customer can hardly ever be wrong. Their every word is heeded, and the Business goes to great lengths to satisfy them. In contrast, in other regions, the Business takes precedence. The Business's policies are upheld and strictly adhered to, even if it results in losing a customer. In this perspective, they believe that there are plenty of other customers in the sea.

Perhaps we ought to examine the root cause of this issue. "The Customer is always right" has nothing to do with determining right from wrong. Its objective is to "Satisfy" the customer and attain their contentment. It is by no means a competition between the Business and the Employee to establish who is actually "right." When a customer presents a grievance, they seek a resolution to their concerns. This can be achieved in multiple ways that are acceptable to both the business and the customer.

Businesses bear a social responsibility to provide optimal services to all who enter their doors. They should not discriminate, they should not pass judgment, and they should treat each customer equitably. They should decline service only when they feel their rules and regulations have been violated. Just because something looks unconventional does not mean that it is morally wrong. Customers who push the boundaries of a business to extract everything they can deserve to be directed elsewhere.

Customers should also be made to feel that they have received value for their money. They should sense that they have received a service well executed by a Business. This sense of value will encourage them to become repeat customers of the Business.

Now that this is clarified, it is crucial to shift the focus away from the notion of right or wrong and begin to assess whether the Customer is satisfied and whether the Business has achieved its targets. In this equation, there is no party deemed right or wrong, just two entities engaged in a standard mutually beneficial relationship.

So, is the Customer Always Right, or is it a delicate balance of power in this symbiotic exchange between customers and businesses?

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