Writer: Neeraj Sawant
Editor: Evelyn Tobing

“The customer is always right” – Gordon Selfridge

Flaws and Customer Service

     Gordon Selfridge’s quote bores in the mind of thousands, if not millions around the world. His quote entails that entrepreneurs should slave away and place customers on a pedestal, regardless of the situation. Although this quote was uttered during the drought of customer service (1909), it still follows with its own flaws.

Customer service plays a vital role in building and maintaining a company’s reputation. And instead of being an extension, it should lie in the heart of your business!

     This is not my sole opinion. The fact that it was said and executed by Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos), clearly proves my point. With that said, nearly every entrepreneur should focus on customer service as much as the tens of tasks on their lists. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should treat every customer like a god.

     As an entrepreneur, your duty is to find a problem in the market, find a solution to that problem and sell it in whichever way possible! And as you’re using your valuable time for executing tasks that require your full potential, you shouldn’t really be focusing on people that fail to provide constructive criticism and justification for refunds. Additionally, you also shouldn’t treat everyone as your potential customer.

Remember, if everyone is your customer, no one is your customer!

Some Customers are Just a Waste of Time

     Suppose you’re working at Subway and the sandwich you made is eaten by a customer of yours. Afterwards, the customer returns to your workspace and demands a full refund (due to the meat being uncooked/raw) after enlightening you of the fact that they finished the entire sandwich.

     By all means, this is clearly unacceptable! And yes, situations like these pop up in every corner of the world, just in different forms and industries. After all, human behavior is unpredictable and sometimes unjust. Using this logic, the quote should be more like “Sometimes, the customer is wrong”.

Employee Performance and Work Environment

     Annoying and unjust customers are some of the main factors that contribute to negative performance and directly affect the work environment. No! Fast food chains aren’t the only businesses that are affected by this. Even a regular retail store or a giant corporation are targets for such customers. Once again, this is only the case if you’re a firm believer of Gordon’s quote, because you’ll listen to every customer’s demands, regardless of the time and effort that you are bound to waste.

     On top of that, you will point fingers at your employees, blaming them for mistreating the customer. It all just descends into chaos, bringing down performance and pleasant work environment, which in turn affects your returns. Forbes also sheds light on the same. They believe that:

“Working conditions and company culture play a major role in keeping employees happy, productive and efficient. When negativity upsets the balance in the workplace, employees disengage. The negativity then spreads to customers who are among those you wish to satisfy. Not good.” 

     Having the right mindset is crucial for dealing with such situations. In my opinion, when you’re faced with choosing an unjust customer and your employees, always go with your employees! Trust me, this will radiate positive energy and bring out positive feedback.

Repels You from Catering to the Other Customers

     Just like how every customer isn’t right, every customer isn’t wrong as well. Considering the busy schedules of employees and founders alike, there may be delays in shipping, accidents that follow and common mistakes that occur every now and then. It’s not a big deal! But if you spend your valuable time catering to unjust customers, then you will miss out on the ones that actually matter; the ones that actually bring you revenue.

     This is exactly where the Pareto principle comes in! You may have heard it as the 80/20 rule, and it is exactly the same. Essentially, this rule entails that 20% of inputs lead to 80% of the outcomes.

     So in this situation, if you spend your time catering to customers that are facing genuine problems with your product, then you’re not only bringing yourself more revenue (as mentioned before) but you’re also accelerating your reputation as a brand.

     It’s indirect marketing, because your brand will be spoken about by your satisfied customers. Furthermore, you’ll reduce the risk of being sued for your mistakes.

How to Deal with Annoying Customers

     Instead of ignoring them, try your best to improve customer service and maintain a healthy work environment. In our previous blog, I mentioned how Tony Hsieh revolutionised company culture. Other than boosting morale and focusing on the work environment, Tony implemented an idea called Holacracy.

     Giving your employees key decision making power and independence is key to dealing with the aforementioned situations. Train your employees and give them the power to decide which type of customers to oblige.

     In the Subway example I previously mentioned, the employee should inform the customer about their wrongdoings, along with the fact that they can’t be helped, as the sandwich is already eaten. I also recommend telling the customer what they should’ve done instead; keeping the rest of the sandwich on the plate after they found the meat to be raw.

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If you wish to know more about customer service, I recommend reading ‘The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers from Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control Costs’ Book.