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Ever since Harry Gordon Selfridge reportedly coined the maxim at the start of the 20th century, “the customer is always right” has been the mantra for many businesses as they strive to build up a healthy roster of happy clients.

However, there is an ongoing debate about whether this should apply in 100% of cases, or even in most of them. We hear more about companies that are automatically putting their employees’ well-being above that of the customers who pay the workforce’s salaries, without a moment’s hesitation.

Clearly, there is an argument for both sides. Without paying customers, no business can survive and in a competitive market it’s vital to impress, particularly when you’re a new fish in a large pond. Businesses that neglect customer service are throwing away the chance to stand out in the crowd.

However, there’s one simple reason why the customer isn’t always right: the wellbeing of your employees. The case for valuing your employees’ comfort and peace of mind above that of your customers is a convincing one, more so than ever with current labour shortages. Even the busiest company cannot sustain itself if it doesn’t have strong, reliable workers to help meet its objectives. Employees who don’t feel supported by their employer may not hang around for very long.

Sometimes, it won’t be possible to satisfy a customer because the company cannot meet their demand – either for logistical reasons or because the customer is simply being wilfully awkward. Asking staff to tie themselves in knots to smooth over an un-resolvable situation is a huge stress that could drive out your best employees.

I think it goes without saying that every company should, as standard policy, refuse to tolerate any kind of verbal or physical abuse towards their staff. Knowing that the company has respect and consideration for their workers, even if the customer doesn’t, will help good employees to feel more confident in their responses to tricky situations. In these situations, ‘the customer isn’t always right’ should be an obvious maxim, and staff will expect you to back it up.

We find that the very best way to support customer service staff is to equip them to succeed in difficult scenarios. Ongoing support and robust policy to guide them in even the most challenging situations will give your staff the confidence and agility to resolve problems. Effective mentoring can also be an excellent resource for employees who want to excel by meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations.

Originally featured on Linkedin – October 2019

Mark Fryer

1st October 2019

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