The phrase “The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of London’s Selfridge’s department store.
It is frequently used by businesses to define or clarify their approach to customer service, hoping, at varying times, to convince both consumers and employees of the high levels of service and satisfaction their customers experience.
But of course, no one is “always” right, and much has been written about why the perspective that “the customer is always right” is, in fact, “wrong.” In fact, a 2014 Huffington Post article lists what author Alexander Kjerulf considers the top five reasons that customers are not always right.
Similarly, Hal Rosenbluth, founder of Rosenbluth International, a corporate travel agency, wrote a book about their approach called “Put The Customer Second – Put your people first and watch’em kick butt.”
Rosenbluth argues that when you put the employees first, they put the customers first; that when you put employees first they will be happy at work, and employees who are happy at work give better customer service.
Regardless of your position on the matter, you might consider that the key words in the well-known phrase may not actually be the words “always right.”
Instead, the key word is “customer,” because when a customer is, in fact, wrong, they will most likely stop being a customer if they are proved to be wrong in a manner that they find offensive — in a manner that brings about loss of dignity or respect.
So maybe the better questions is, what does it mean to “take the high road” when interacting with customers or, to Mr. Rosenbluth’s point, colleagues?
As speaker David Brock once said, “Being right doesn’t mean you win!”