Join Jeff Toister for an in-depth discussion in this video Helping the customer be right, part of Working with Upset Customers.
- You've probably heard the saying The customer is always right. When I wrote my book Service Failure, I did some research to find out who originally said that. Like many customer service professionals, this saying has always bothered me a bit because the truth is that the customer is not always right. My research led to an interesting discovery. I couldn't find anyone who had originally said that statement. What I did find were two variations that made a lot more sense. The first one came from the legendary hotelier César Ritz.
He said, The customer is never wrong. Ritz meant that even when the customer is wrong, you don't argue with them. You just find a way to make things better. The second quote came from the famous retailer Marshall Field. He said, Right or wrong, the customer is always right. Field acknowledges that the customer might be wrong, but it's our job to help them be right. If we go back to the coffee shop scene, you'll see that the barista makes things worse by trying to make the customer be wrong.
- It's not my fault your drink got screwed up last time. I wasn't even here two days ago so. - Whatever, you're here today. Four pumps of vanilla, how hard can that be? - Let's take a look. Yeah, pretty sure I put four pumps in here. (hollow sniffing sound) Definitely a lot of vanilla in this. - Well, there's not enough vanilla. - Well, if you wanted more vanilla, you should've just asked for more pumps. Yeah, I can put more in here, but there's definitely four pumps of vanilla in this.
- So did the barista put in four pumps of vanilla just like the customer asked? It really doesn't matter. What's important is the drink wasn't made to the customer's liking. Avoiding an argument in situations like this can be difficult. The barista might feel like he's under attack and his fight or flight instinct kicks in. Perhaps he really did put in four pumps of vanilla and he feels like the customer's being mean or unfair. Or maybe he didn't add four pumps and he feels embarrassed that the customer's loudly announcing his mistake. Whatever the emotions, arguing with the customer makes things worse.
Let's see what happens when the barista refocuses his attention on helping the customer be right. - Yeah, I just don't understand why this keeps happening. Like four pumps of vanilla, how hard can that be? - (chuckle) Yeah, I know, I completely understand. I'm actually a peppermint person myself, can't get enough of it. - Mm-hm. - This was a vanilla latte, right? - Yeah, non-fat. - Okay, you hang onto this one. I'm gonna make a new one that way we can do a little taste test afterwards and make sure I get it right. Cool? - Okay. - Okay, this time the barista took the emotional edge off the conversation by helping the customer be right.
He avoided an argument and refocused on making sure the customer's vanilla latte had enough vanilla. These same principles apply to written communication, especially when that communication is public. Arguing with a customer over a negative Yelp review or a critical Tweet won't make your company look any better. In fact, it might even scare away other potential customers. When responding to an angry customer in writing, remind yourself that the focus is helping them become right even if they start out wrong.
Regardless of who's at fault, helping customers be right is a great way to demonstrate empathy, avoid arguments, and ultimately make your customers feel better.
- Listening with empathy
- Helping the customer be right
- Preserving the relationship
- Learning from angry customers
- Passing along complaints
- Replacing trigger words