Yesterday I sent out a tweet saying:
“Never let a customer bully you into giving them something for free, even if they threaten to go above you.
The customer is never right”
In my few years of working in the service industry, this becomes something of a secret motto, even if the sales representatives themselves don’t actually say it aloud. But we’re all thinking it. Between my two part-time jobs each of which I’ve worked at for the past 3 years, I’ve constantly had to deal with customers simply think that if they complain enough, they’ll simply get their way, even if their situation was entirely their fault. The old credo “The customer is always right” should be done away with altogether. Not only is it harmful to sales representatives, but it can also be damaging to companies as well trying to go above and beyond to please the few troublesome customers who want to get their way. If anything, I’ve learned that being firm with a customer instead of quickly appeasing them only to have them constantly return and repeat the same behavior is like.
As I mentioned before, I hold two part-time jobs from which I’ve gained my opinions. I’ll refer to them as Job A and Job B from this point on. Now in the terms of Job A, the service we provide to our customers is very specific and if we don’t have the correct information, there’s very little we can do to help, simple as that. The goal as a sales representative is to make things as easy as possible for the customer and make sure they understand both the product and the service we provide. As far as product, we have plenty which is why we ask for specificity. If you’re new to the way things work, we’re happy to help walk you through our process. But every once in a while (and I mean every 20th customer or so) someone doesn’t want give us the information we need to help them. They want us to already know everything for them. Well that’s just not possible. There are hundreds of variations and for the customers’ best interest, we never want to send them away with the wrong purchase. I don’t believe any sales person wants to make that mistake. Unfortunately in the case of Job A, it happens more frequently than at most places simply because we’re constantly getting new customers who don’t understand the way things are done, which is quite understandable to us. And we deal with a certain range of age groups: Between 18-25 year olds and 40-60+. Quite often customers complain about the way our system works, but that is expected for the product we provide. And yes, we do on a regular basis tell customers we can’t help them if they can’t provide us with the proper information. They’ll complain, get angry and threaten to go somewhere else, but in most cases, what we provide cannot be obtained except through our company, and sometimes more specifically our store.
Now in terms of Job B, the service we provide is quite similar, but with a different age groups and “class” of people. We also provide a very specific service unique to our location and try to be as hospitable and patient as possible as our purchasing procedure takes twice as long as normal purchases for our main product. The majority of the age group we deal with is in the 25-35 age range but averages around the 50+ group. Not only that, but they are usually wealthier patrons who are used to getting what they want when they want it, and if they don’t get it will complain until the cows come home. On top of that, there is a technological hurdle that we must educate our customers on that typically does not go over well with many because they simply don’t want to do it. They just want to make their purchase and move on. With Job B, this is where many of the problems begin. I am one of only four employees that have been with Job B since it first opened and am considered one of the senior sales representatives on the floor. If there is a problem, I usually can answer it as well as any of my managers can (if not better). We are a small company still trying to gain proper footing in the surrounding community so hurdles are expected to come with growth. But as we’ve persisted these last 3 years, we’ve found that our customers tend to report where they find our information inaccurately. They INSIST that they get it from places we simply don’t advertise, or that our advertisements said “this” and not “that”, when we know it to be false. As such, when customers tell us this, the first question we ask is “Can you show me?”. Some immediately decline because they think it’s ridiculous and that we should know our own advertisements. Well, we’re so tiny that yes, we in fact do. Job B only advertises in one place; a newspaper ad that simply states our name, location and website. We populate through other websites, but those amount to only 3 other sources at most. The 20% of customers who decide to pull up where they got their information from usually pull up something that is either not our location and in fact a completely different business, or they’ve looked at one of our 5 other locations across the country (there is only one “Job B” in all the south and it’s in Houston). 5% of the time, yes there is a mistake either on our part or through one of the populated websites. We thank the customer, apologize and assist them as much as possible.
It is in instances such as the last mentioned where Job A and Job B differ greatly. With Job A, should a customer want to complain, they can speak with a manager. Typically the manager tells them what’s what and that this is how things are done. NEVER have I ever heard of ANY of our managers give a customer store credit simply based on that customer’s displeasure either with our service or the product we sell. Why? Because it makes no sense to do such a thing. Could Job A afford to do such a thing if they wished? Sure. It’s a huge multinational company. BUT they recognize that giving in to a customer’s petty complaint about something they themselves have not provided us with or that we cautioned them against is a waste of time.
The case of Job B is the complete opposite. Should a customer want to complain, we hand them over to a manager. If the customer is a little to annoyed at having been inconvenienced, the manager simply affords them a credit. In most cases, the managers at Job B would rather give a customer a credit and get back to their job rather than telling the customer how to avoid such confusion in the future. Even still, the customers at Job B will persist and not want the credit because they can only be redeemed in person and demand that the manager do more despite the fact that there is nothing more that can be done (I will throw in that on more than one occasion have I had to call security on customers at Job B for being overly aggressive). The customer does not like that they’ve been inconvenienced and does not want to accept the compensation we have provided. There is nothing more to be done, yet the customer insists. Can Job B afford such a thing? No. It’s simply not feasible. On top of that, some of the customers of Job B will take the credit, return to redeem it and complain about something else creating a cycle of free service all for the sake of not want to deal with a customer’s issues for too long.
At both Job A and Job B I have been confronted with extremely difficult customers, both on a regular basis as both require me to constantly educate people on how our systems of service work. At Job A, it’s allowed for us to be firm with our customers and turn them away if we cannot help them. Simple as that. Any and all employees do so because of the nature of our business. You aren’t chastised for it, and you aren’t tracked on the number of customer related complaints or instances you receive within any span of time. As for Job B, being firm with a customer and trying to properly resolve an issue to avoid giving a credit has in fact gotten me in trouble because in the end “the customer complained”. After so many complaints, you’re put on notice and told to simply not engage any customers in any instances of complaint again or you’re fired. And yes, it has happened that I’ve had situations at Job B where a customer’s complaint is something out of our control and I’ve been the only person able to actively deal with a customer. Despite doing everything I can to try and assuage the customer until a manager is available, since the customer complained, I have had to take the blame.
The point of all this explanation is to say that no, the customer is not always right. If anything, 80% of the time the customer is wrong. Why? Because as a sales representative you are going to know your service better than the customer. You’ve been trained in what the product is and after so many years you should know that product and how to handle various situations inside and out. The customer does not know everything that you know. They complain because they do not understand. Our job as sales representatives is to educate and help make the process easier. You don’t want to create a cyclical monster that is draining your resources because you simply want them to stop complaining. You hear the complaint, give the solution, even if it means going above and beyond and reaching outside of the company for help, and make sure that the customer UNDERSTANDS why things are done in such a way. The customer doesn’t need to know everything that you do, but you don’t want them to think that they have all the power because they simply don’t.
Yes, we rely on our customers to buy our products so we can have a business in the first place. At the same time, if we’re providing a unique service that isn’t going to be replaced any time soon, you might as well state as early as possible in your customers’ first experience with your business how things are handled. If they don’t like it, apologize and keep going. Don’t reward them because they don’t want to get in the swing of things. If you relent the first time something minor goes wrong and you give in to that one customer, you open the flood gates to allow others to do the same thing.
Customers may hold the money, but you hold the product. They don’t know what they want. We’re here to tell them what they need. They may think you’re wrong, but the customer is NEVER right.