The Customer is always wrong – Lessons from poor service.

Everyone experiences poor customer service from time to time. Often the New Year sales bring out the absolute worst in both service providers and customers. But it is not just in retail that we see customers being treated poorly.

Csar Ritz 1897The title of this article is the antithesis of the phrase “le client n’a jamais tort” (the customer is never wrong) which was the slogan of Swiss hotelier Ce’sar Ritz, the entrepreneur whose name is perpetuated in the famous Ritz Hotels in Paris and London established in the early tewntieth century. My most recent experience prompts me to offer some observations on how organisations can learn from the customer service shortcomings of those who do not follow Ritz’s maxim.

Ce’sar Ritz (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

In the following situations which I have seen or heard, I tried to consider how management might learn from them and improve its customer service approach or at least avoid these terrible encounters. I have grouped them under the heading of some common observed myths.

“Customers are not to be relied on to tell the truth.”

I recently had cause to question a banking transaction that occurred without the bank seeking my authorisation.The customer service person I Cartfonangerapproached told me emphatically –  “You would have been sent numerous reminders about the proposed action and must have ignored them “. After my ears stopped steaming I insisted on a check of the process which then vindicated my stance. No apology was forthcoming.

Lesson: Ensure staff are not too quick to insist the organisation’s standard procedures are infallible in the face of the customer’s report. Standard procedures can sometimes fail.

“The customer doesn’t know their own mind.”

Have you had a customer service person tell you, disdainfully, that what you have asked for is not what you really want? I have. It is most disturbing when you know very well what you want and the customer service person is trying to impose something else on you. It is important to differentiate between being helpful to a customer as opposed to diverting them from their valid intention.

Lesson: Train staff to listen carefully and ask questions to clarify what the customer’s need is before offering any alternative solutions. There is a large difference between being helpful and imposing unwanted options.

“The customer does not deserve respect.”

I recently received in error, a communication from the administration of a trades company intended for one of its field supervisors. The leading e-mail itself was innocuous but the trail of related messages attached were highly disparaging of the customer (not me) and could have caused serious conflict if exposed to the customer.

Lesson: Require staff to treat customers with highest respect in public and in private, then there won’t be a need to worry about messages that are inadvertently misdirected.

“The customer is a nuisance.”

This attitude is also known as “your problem is not my problem” or the Basil Fawlty syndrome. These situations arise when the customer senses quite clearly that the customer service person would prefer that they would just go away. Here are some classic lines I have overheard recently:

  • “There are none in the store. You will just have to keep coming back until you see some on the shelves.”cartcustomer
  • “The person you want isn’t here. I don’t know where he is…. Neeext!
  • “We have a no refunds policy. You should have checked all the pieces were there before you took it out of the store. Can’t you find a similar size screw at home?”
  • “I noticed there were some errors in the form before I sent it to you, but I thought you could fix them up before you sent it back.”

Lesson: Encourage staff to see customers as the lifeblood of the business. Everyone turned away unsatisfied is potentially lost revenue that otherwise keeps customer service personnel employed. In the Public Sector, each disgruntled customer is a potential Ministerial complaint that you will have to deal with again in the future.

Quality Assurance is something someone else does.

Poor customer service creates poor business outcomes. Where in all these instances was the organisation’s quality assurance? For many of them quality assurance in customer service is obviously not a priority. It may be a responsibility of some poor hapless soul who rows hard against the sea of indifference. Many of these misdemeanours in customer service could be repaired if only the culture would focus more on listening to the customer, thinking about how to address their need Customerchecklistand responding positively. Attention to customer feedback is an essential part of that listening.

A year or more ago I wrote an article about improving electronic customer service centres and my recent experience continues to reflect good progress in those areas.

I was once given a salutary lesson from an aggrieved customer of an organisation I was involved with. They were complaining about a particular customer service person and said “They think there is some kind of contest between them and the customer which they must always win. If they could just get over that things would work a lot better in that office.

The only contest I have encouraged in the customer service areas I have been involved in is a contest to see who can meet the reasonable needs of the customer in the most effective manner. The customer may not always be right, but the customer’s needs must always be paramount.

Customer service(Image:

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