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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Customer is Always Right

The Customer is Always Right

There is a saying in retail that goes “The customer is always right.” This is true up to a point. The saying should go “The customer is always right until the customer is wrong.”

Sometimes we, as customers, ask companies to do things that we know are outside of their policy, but we hope that they will see that we would be better off and happier customers if they would bend that policy. I can think of two such cases from my recent past. The first involves an air mattress that did not hold air. I had purchased it at Walmart. The Walmart policy on air mattresses is that they will exchange but not refund the money. I had decided that since one would not hold air that I would not try another. Walmart agreed with me and refunded my money. This made me happy.
A second situation involved the local Radio Shack. I had taken my phone and battery into the store so that I could be sure of getting the right battery. The store did not have the right battery, so they ordered it for me. I picked up the battery and took it home only to learn the battery would not fit my phone. The Radio Shack closes at 6 PM and I very rarely have an opportunity to get by before that time. So, try as I might, I could not make it to Radio Shack when they were open for a while.

Finally, I was able to make it to the Radio Shack. I had my receipt. I had the package. I had the battery, but it was a few days longer than their return policy allowed for. They refused to refund my money. In this case, I knew that I was outside of the return period, but it would have endeared them to me if they had bent the policy.
There are times, though, in retail when we find that the customer is clearly wrong. The first year my family owned the Western Auto Store, a man came by our house on Christmas Day demanding my father open the store and refund his money for a toy that did not work. The toy had a K-Mart price sticker on it. My father refunded his money anyway.
Marshall Fields, the legendary Chicago merchant, is said to have been walking the floor of his store one day when he came upon a clerk and a female customer in a heated argument. Fields asked the clerk what he was doing to which the clerk replied that he was settling a customer complaint. Fields replied “No you are not; give the lady what she wants (Chicago Architecture Foundation, 2011).”

Nordstrom’s, the upscale clothier, is legendary for outstanding customer service. Store legend lists an example of when a man walked into a Fairbanks, Alaska Nordstrom’s store and placed a set of snow tires on the counter and demanded a refund. The clerk saw that the price tag on the tires showed $15, so he reached in the drawer and refunded the man his $15. The store had never sold tires (Janet, 2011).
Here the customer is clearly wrong, but the store took care of them anyway. However, there are sometimes situations when the customer is so wrong that it is impossible to help them. A situation that occurred the other day brought this back to mind. There are some customers that are set on having things their way and on running over other people.
A woman came into the small convenience store I was at and threw $5 down on the counter and said “He’s gonna get $5 worth of gas.” The pump had already been authorized, so that meant that the man would have to stop at $5 himself. Otherwise he would go over the amount she had paid for. Since he had not started pumping, he could have hung the pump up and then I could set it to stop at $5. I told her she could have him hang the pump up or have him stop at $5.
The woman became very belligerent. She uttered a torrent of profanities which included multiple uses of God’s name in vain. She said, “I am not going to do your job for you.” She went on to say she would not shop in the store again. To this I had to reply, “We appreciate that.” In this case, the woman’s business was not worth the hassle she caused. It was not worth the disruption she caused other customers. In short, the customer was wrong and her business was not worth the problems she caused.
A business has to have a policy that is fair to its customers, yet equally fair to the employees. When a customer makes excessive demands or is verbally or otherwise abusive to an employee, the business’s only recourse is to stand behind the employee and fire the customer. No one’s business is so important that it gives them carte blanche to abuse employees. A company has to believe this and fire the customer if need be. There are times when a customer is simply venting and the employee needs to understand this and allow the customer to do so without taking it personally.

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Chicago Architecture Foundation. (2011, February 22). Give the lady what she wants. Retrieved from Around Chicago in 85 Tours: http://www.85tours.com/2011/02/give-lady-what-she-wants.html
Janet, B. (2011). The Customer Is Always Right. Even When They Are Positively Wrong . Retrieved from The Customer Is Always Right. Even When They Are Positively Wrong : http://www.afunzone.com/ATopic/The_Customer_Is_Always_Right_Even_When_They_Are_Positively_Wrong.htm

The opinions or advice listed in this blog or website should be used as a place to start only. It is not a substitute for the use of a professional.
Please be sure to consult your attorney and/or accountant with any specific questions.
There is no one right answer to any business question that will cover all circumstances.
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