Finish the sentence….

If you’ve ever worked in a business or owned a business, then chances are you’ve heard the phrase: “The customer is always right!”

But is it really true?

During a few of my earlier jobs in the restaurant industry years ago, we were governed by this mantra. We were taught that “usually,” and under most circumstances, the customer was always right. We were taught to say “yes” to customers questions and requests. Even if the answer was no, it was common practice to nod and do our best to ensure the customers’ wishes were granted. Bow down to the almighty demands of the customer.

For a long time, the customers held this power over our heads. The worst part about the secret was that the customer knew it, and they exploited it. This was, and still is, particularly true in the service industry.

Them: “You put cheese on my hamburger??? How dare you! I did not order cheese! You have not only ruined my night, but you’ve ruined the night for all of our guests. We will never return to this restaurant”

Us: “I am terribly sorry for this severe misunderstanding. I was extremely busy and must have written down cheese on the order. Please forgive me by accepting your meal on the house. We’d also like to treat you to this gigantic piece of rolo cake free-of-charge.”

If I never questioned any of the things I’ve learned over the years, I would assume that all businesses worked under the assumption that the customer is, in fact, always right. The fact is, it’s not true.

The customer is not always right nor is the customer always wrong.

I’m suggesting that the power has balanced  out and the best businesses and professionals understand this. Through the power of social media and the new tools available, the best businesses know that they can now seek out their true fans and true loyal customers. Many times, we’re also looking for you.

Tim Ferriss talks about the 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle applied to his own business in The 4-Hour Workweek. Tim found that 80% of his problems were coming from 20% of his business. I’d be willing to bet that most businesses, with problematic customers, find similar results.  Tim didn’t just bow down to the pressure of his problem customers because they were always right, instead he fired them. Less money, but less headache and far less stress. Remember we talked about this a few weeks ago, when the lady had mistakenly told off my brother? Same thing. Wes decided less headache over some quick cash was the better decision.

I’m suggesting that, if you’re dealing with a customer or client, and you absolutely 100%  unequivocally know you are right about a given situation, you might need to lose that customer to gain a new one.

Of course, all of this comes at a risk to the business owner and the forfeit of profits.

Real Estate is an example that always comes to mind in this situation. Suppose I’m interested in hiring you as my real estate agent. I tell you I want to list and sell my house for $350,000, but you and I know (deep down) it’s only worth $200,000 and I say “please understand, I’m not budging on this amount”! Do you still take me on as a client? Do you still show up and run an open house on Sunday? Nail some signs in my front lawn?

Sadly, many do and would. A listing is a listing is a listing. A customer is a customer is a customer. And the customer is always right, right?


P.S. This doesn’t apply only to agreements and disagreements between business owners and customers either. It applies to your entire business and the message you’re spreading. If you’re like McDonald’s, and will serve the masses with no questions asked, why would I choose you over the next guy? It’s as simple as throwing all the names into a hat and blindly picking one out.

I’ll choose the businesses that stand for something and have a line they won’t cross any day of the week.