Working in Customer Service and Operations for the majority of my career this mantra has been something that I have very much tried to live my life by. I have not taken it to extremes by looking at businesses providing me with shoddy service and abraiding them for their lack of service, but have always tried to go the extra mile for my customers not only to earn their loyalty and repeat business, but simply because it just seemed to make sense to me!
“The customer is always right”
Harry Gordon Selfridge (1909) – founder of Selfridge’s department store
“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”
Now I do not want to minimize this in any way, there have been many instances where providing that extra level of service has been extremely difficult and I am proud to say that in more than one instance I have turned a potentially Irate and Desperate customer into a raving fan, simply by going that extra mile. Providing useful and relevant information to a client experiencing problems during the course of the issue has helped me more than once and sometimes calling back even if you do not have a new update means they know that you have not forgotten about them. Unfortunately there are many instances where the customer is not right and dealing with these situations is a lot more difficult.
Customer Service – It impacts your staff
When customers abuse your staff it is simply wrong. There is never a justification for this and while you can tell your employees not to take it personally and that they are not mad at them, but rather the company, being called names and made to feel belittled is absolutely unjustifiable. Your employees are really the key resource in your company. It is not the what you manufacture, the service you sell or the product you maintain that actually defines your company, but rather the people that make those things and maintain them for you. They are your true salespeople and your best resource.
When customer service impacts employee morale, your employees need to come first – while it might be difficult and costly to obtain a new customer, it is often significantly more costly to find and train a new employee. In addition, by siding with the customer to the detriment of your staff, you impact your whole internal culture which has a knock on effect in many other ways.
It impacts your ability to help other customers
Isaac Asimov a great Science Fiction writer created what are now known as the three laws of robotics which are as follows:
- A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
These same laws can be very much paraphrased in your approach to Customer Service and the client. There are many businesses that sell multiple lines of service and while some of your customers might only purchase a portion of your total set of services, you cannot and should not treat them differently than other customers. Correspondingly those “larger” customers should not by default take precedence over your smaller customers. While money does talk, no one is saying that you should not help and assist them but it should not be at the expense of a smaller business who is also your customer. Customer Service is about treating all of your customers as equally as possible.
A great example of this is a service business. This business has a booked, scheduled and paid for installation date for one of their services with small client A. Unfortunately on the day of the installation, big client B has a service outage and the only person that can resolve the issue is the same engineer that is going out to client A. While it might make sense to tell customer A that you need to delay, you need to realize that they have built plans and possibly have other companies arriving for follow on work based on the work that they are expecting you to do. Your appeasing big client B will not only lose you the business of client A now, but also the follow on business that they might be able to bring to you in the future.
It is against your company policies, procedures and the law
Customers often want the moon and while they might be willing to pay for it, sometimes it is just wrong to give in to their demands. Company ethics – while they might in some instances seem to be in short supply! – need to drive your decisions and guide you as while the money might make you want to give in, there are very good reasons why you sometimes should not. A very good example of this is the unfortunate plight of the staff at the News of the World. This old and established newspaper (while not a high brow newspaper) was unfortunately embroiled in the recent scandal relating to Phone Hacking in the UK and this has not only forced the closure of the paper – impacting all of the employees – but has also escalated into other larger parts of the Rupert Murdoch empire.
What should you do?
When you have a customer that is plain wrong, there really is only one option. As hard as it may be to hear, they need to stop being your customer. This means that if you are the owner or manager of a store, they are told – politely – that they are no longer welcome and while this may be hard to do (as they will be undoubtedly irate) it is really the only option that you have available to yourself if you are at all concerned about the long term viability of your business. While this might have a negative impact on your bottom line in most cases this is a short term impact and if you continue to provide good customer service to the rest of your customers, one that you will be able to get over. You do obviously always need to keep things like the 80/20 rule in mind and if this one customer accounts for 80% of your business your options are somewhat limited and your best case scenario in that instance is to spend significant efforts in growing your other customers. This is obviously easier said than done, but I think it is safe to say that this is not a common scenario and if a customer is large enough to account for 80% of your business then they are generally professional enough not to be responsible for the issues mentioned above.