“Customer Is Always Right” – Advantages and Disadvantages From a Small Business Perspective

By  //  September 30, 2021

Any person who has experience working in a customer service field has heard the phrase “the customer is always right” in regards to addressing customer concerns. This motto is a business model many companies follow in order to foster good relationships with their customers, in an act of choosing to honor the customers and offer them the benefit of the doubt.

However, small businesses in particular may experience difficulty following this adage for numerous reasons. Keep reading to learn what business owners and founders consider the advantages and disadvantages of the “customer is always right” mentality, and their words of advice.

Focus on Providing the Best Customer Service

The whole meaning behind the mentality that the customer is always right is to offer no-questions-asked service that honors the customers so they leave satisfied with the service they received. My recommendation is that your company focus on following this motto closely at all times and aim to provide the best possible customer service.

Customers notice when they are taken seriously and treated well. If you are consistent in your customer service policy, before long your company will be known as one that genuinely fights for its customers. Customers are the heart of any business, so the phrase is correct in business and absolutely worth following.

Kashish Gupta, Founder and CEO Hightouch

Address Every Customer Concern

We all know that there are exceptions to every rule, but this is definitely not one of them. If even one customer is displeased with your service, the word-of-mouth effect must be taken into consideration.

Plus, if you actually care about your customers, you want to make every concession possible to ensure they walk away with only positive things to say about the overall customer service experience. Listen to your customers, get down to the root of the problem, and find a way to make them feel better about the situation than they did before you began your interaction. After all, it’s the right thing to do.

Ryan Rottman, Co-Founder and CEO OSDB Inc. 

Be Prepared for Conflicts With Employees

A downside to the “customer is always right” mentality is that authority-employee relationships can become strained when conflicts with particularly difficult or volatile customers arise. Of course, it is important to establish your intentions to honor customers and prioritise service upon hiring employees, but generally tension will occur at some point anyways.

The biggest issue is that workers feel the customer is sided with rather than the employee in matters where there’s a staunch division. Work around this by making your employees feel heard and respected, and reassure them of your confidence in them. In these moments it’s important to remind employees of your customer service policy while still conveying your company’s loyalty to its staff.

Dylan Fox, Founder and CEO AssemblyAI

React to Customer Feedback To Make Them Feel Heard

Customer feedback is arguably your most valuable tool when starting a small business. Consumer listening has helped us shape and fine-tune product collections and guided us to improve a number of different aspects of our business. While it’s important to distinguish between actionable feedback and a customer airing frustrations around elements that are outside of your company’s control, staying in tune and reacting to customer feedback is crucial to the success of a small business.

Dr. Kathrin Hamm, Founder and CEO Bearaby 

Establish Guidelines for Disrespectful Customers 

Yes, the customer is always right, but there still need to be boundaries. Some customers are just plain disrespectful and difficult to work with. While you should try to appease the customer, in matters of extreme conflict the most important things are that the customer recognizes the effort put in by the company and that the employees are respected.

Never choose a disrespectful customer over an employee who is following company policies just to keep the motto. There are limits to the benefit of the doubt you can offer a difficult customer. Setting guidelines in place for certain situations ensures that your company never lets the situation get out of hand to an employee’s detriment.

Tyler Hayden Read, Founder and Senior Editor PT Pioneer

Ensure Employees Know They’re Valued and Trusted

To avoid conflicts that could arise between employees and customers when following the “customer is right” stance, focus on being known as a company that values its employees.  Employee appreciations, employee benefits, and an open door policy all help. Also, be sure to let your workers know they will be treated with an extent of trust even when unhappy customers complain.

This way you can benefit both your customers and your employees and hopefully avoid conflicts. Establish with your staff that your company policy is to honor customers in a public way even when you might disagree with their actions. Hopefully the amount of difficult customers your business encounters is few, but this way your policies will be set in place for crises. 

Dylan Trussell, Co-Founder Culprit Underwear

Use Caution When Offering Customer Satisfaction Benefits

The only disadvantage to the theory that the “customer is always right” is it could create a temporary situation that might translate to a revenue loss if you offer a free month, upgrade a service, or provide a partial or full refund.

However, in business, you have to be able to differentiate between what is good for your company long-term, and what might be a one-off situation. Helping a customer to overcome a challenge with your services is always the right thing to do. And that one-time effort to “make things right” could very well create a customer for life. 

Marc Atiyeh, CEO PAWP 

Define a Customer as a Person Willing To Respectfully Engage 

In order for the “customer is always right” stance to work, you need to set clear definitions of who your customers are. Define your customers as people who are willing to respectfully engage with your company and staff so that any behaviors falling outside of these guidelines can be handled in more appropriate ways.

For example, once a person is volatile, abusive, or acts with extreme disrespect towards staff, they lose their privilege to be treated in the same manner as customers. Being clear from the beginning about what behaviors you will put up with provides you with guidelines for conflict control.

Lauren Kleinman, Co-Founder The Quality Edit 

Use Discretion When Honoring Abrasive Customers

‘The customer is always right’ is an age-old saying, but how true is it? While yes, there are some pros to this saying, there are just as many cons. The pros include that it prevents (sometimes devastating) backlash, it supports good business ethics, and prioritizes the needs of the customer.

For a small business, the backlash from an unhappy customer could be detrimental. The mindset that the customer is “right” creates positive business ethics, teaching all departments to have a uniform code of conduct. It’s also important to note that the customer can make or break your business, especially if you are a small company. You always want your customers to feel welcomed and appreciated, in order to garner positive word of mouth and secure their long term loyalty. 

However, the cons include potentially sacrificing employee happiness, and providing an unfair advantage to abrasive customers. Put simply, some customers are bad for business. It is important to ensure your employees feel respected, and aren’t working to facilitate every unreasonable demand that a customer makes.

Difficult (or even abusive) customers can make an employee’s job extremely difficult — so there are definitely scenarios in which the customer is not always right.

Liz Tomic, Chief Growth Officer Flying Embers 

Only Offer Resources Within Your Means When Providing for Customers 

Although you want to honor your customers and provide the best possible service to them, be careful not to offer them resources outside of your company’s means in order to satisfy their requests. Customers come first, but at the same time you need to put your business and employees at the forefront. Set guidelines for what is and is not possible at your company’s current position. These may change in the future but it’s important to be realistic.

Geoff Percy, CEO Simple

Be Aware Customers May Try to Take Advantage 

There are plenty of lovely, wonderful customers your business will interact with, and the basis of the “customer is always right” stance is going out of your way to ensure they are satisfied with the products or service they receive from your business.

However, a more complicated side of this motto is that there will be some difficult customers as well. You should treat all customers with equal consideration and respect, but do be aware that some customers may try to take advantage of your company, knowing that they can operate from a position of “rightness.”

While every company hopes to avoid conflict, certain instances of customers taking advantage will occur. With this in mind, treat customers with the utmost benefit, but do use discretion to protect your company.

Robert Neis, President and CEO, Palmers