The customer service myth is wrong and misleading

We need to address the single most popular false idea about customer service. Probably you’ve heard the phrase, “the customer is always right.” It’s a great slogan, credited to H. Gordon Selfridge, who passed away in 1947. Unfortunately, it’s wrong and misleading.

Clearly the customer is not always right. Customers make unreasonable requests and sometimes have unreasonable expectations. Sometimes customers play fast and loose with the truth. Take for example the story of a Southwest customer below.

One woman, who frequently flew on Southwest Airlines, was constantly disappointed with every aspect of the company’s operation. In fact, she became known as the “Pen Pal” because after every flight she wrote in with a complaint.

She didn’t like the fact that the company didn’t assign seats; she didn’t like the absence of a first-class section; she didn’t like not having a meal in flight; she didn’t like Southwest’s boarding procedure; she didn’t like the flight attendants’ sporty uniforms and the casual atmosphere.

Her last letter, reciting a litany of complaints, momentarily stumped Southwest’s customer relations people. They bumped it up to Herb’s (Kelleher, CEO of Southwest) desk, with a note: ‘This one’s yours.’

In sixty seconds, Kelleher wrote back and said, ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.’

Practically speaking, as a small business owner, you can’t operate under assumptions that the customer is always right. You can’t give each customer what he or she asks for.

So, since the “customer is always right” slogan is wrong, here are three realistic descriptions of how we should treat our customers:

1. The customer always deserves to be treated as if he or she is important, because they are. Simply put, you won’t be in business without customers.

2. The customer deserves to receive maximum effort on part of those serving him or her, even when the customer’s expectations, wants and needs may be impractical. Even in situation where you can’t do what the customer wants you can contribute to the customer’s development of how he or she is treated.

3. “WOW!” your customers with positive surprises – positive surprises are things you may do that go above and beyond their expectation. This may include offering unexpected discounts or providing benefits that normally are not available to them.

Truth be told, the bar for customer service in Kenya is not very high, so for the coming weeks and months we’re going to be sharing some of the most effective customer service tools and techniques that we've learned over the years. Stay tune