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The Customer Is Always Right … Is Wrong

The Customer Is Always Right Is Wrong

Attributed to Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge's department store in London during the early 20th century, the phrase "the customer is always right" has been a longstanding mantra in the business world. While well-intentioned, this idea neglects the reality that customers are human, fallible, and subject to the same complexities as anyone else. This can create challenges for employees, especially when faced with unreasonably irate customers.


As the holiday season approaches, individuals grapple with year-end client demands in professional settings while simultaneously navigating the intricate landscape of family dynamics. Strikingly, families share similarities with customers in a business context. Both involve exchanges of value—be it time, attention, money or products—and can either flourish or falter based on how these exchanges are managed.

respect your customer and respect yourself

Parallels Between Customer and Family Relationships:

Customers Are Human, And That’s Messy


Individual customers, much like family members, bring a diverse range of emotions, desires, and behaviors into the relationship. Recognizing this diversity is crucial, emphasizing the need to distinguish between individual actions and the broader behavior of the customer base. Every customer, like each family member, is unique.


Businesses encounter challenges when dealing with customers exhibiting undesirable behaviors, such as theft, mental health issues, or unethical conduct. Successfully navigating these challenges requires balancing customer satisfaction with mutual respect, cooperation, and a discerning awareness of whether a particular customer aligns with the business's values.


Understanding that not every customer is ideal is foundational to effective business branding. This principle applies equally to family dynamics; not every relationship, no matter the connection, is guaranteed to be healthy or constructive.

the customer is always right is wrong

Examples of Dealing with a Customer Who Is Wrong:

Being verbally abusive, emotionally aggressive, making personal attacks or otherwise being disrespectful is never right.

  1. Remain Calm and Professional: Responding with calmness in the face of disrespectful behavior can defuse the situation.

  • Example:

  • Customer: "Your service is terrible! I can't believe how incompetent your staff is."

  • Employee: "I'm sorry to hear that you're having a negative experience. I'd be happy to assist you in resolving the issue. Can you please provide more details about what specifically went wrong?"

  1. Set Boundaries: Clearly communicate that disrespectful behavior is not acceptable.

  • Example:

  • Customer: "This is ridiculous! I demand you fix this immediately!"

  • Employee: "I understand your frustration, but I need to emphasize that our employees deserve to be treated with respect. I'm here to help, but I ask that you communicate your concerns in a more constructive manner."

  1. Involve a Manager if Necessary: If the situation escalates, involving a manager can be appropriate.

  • Example:

  • Customer (raising voice): "I demand to speak to someone else! This is unacceptable!"

  • Employee: "I understand your concern. Let me get my manager, and they will be able to assist you further."

  1. Offer Solutions: Continue to focus on resolving the customer's issue.

  • Example:

  • Customer: "I don't care what you say; I want a refund right now!"

  • Employee: "I'm sorry for the inconvenience. Let me look into this for you. While I cannot guarantee a refund, I'll do my best to find a solution that meets your needs."

  1. Know When to Disengage: Politely communicate that the conversation will not be productive if conducted disrespectfully.

  • Example:

  • Customer: "I've had enough of this! Your company is a joke!"

  • Employee: "I understand your frustration, but I won't be able to assist you if the conversation continues in this manner. If you have further concerns, please communicate them respectfully, or I may have to end this conversation."


Recognizing Signs of a Customer Who Isn’t Right:

As we navigate both customer-business and family relationships, it becomes crucial to recognize signs indicating that a customer—or family member—is not the right fit.

  1. Unreasonable Demands: Customers may make demands that exceed a business's capabilities, mirroring family members' unrealistic expectations.

  2. Abusive Behavior: Disrespectful, abusive, or harassing behavior should not be tolerated, whether in a business or family context.

  3. Policy Compliance: Requests that go against established policies or legal regulations can create challenges in both spheres. Straying from established norms or agreed-upon family rules can create challenges, much like businesses face when dealing with policy deviations. It is important that all parties agree on what the norms need to be to benefit all concerned.

  4. Fraudulent Claims: Businesses need to protect themselves from fraudulent claims, just as individuals need to be aware of false narratives within family dynamics.


Our Role in Relationships:

Whether participating in customer-business or family relationships, individuals play a significant role in shaping the dynamics. While we cannot control another person’s behavior, we can control how we respond. As we encounter challenges in both scenarios, especially during the holidays, here are some common threads:


  1. Expectations: Striving for ideal family gatherings mirrors customers' elevated expectations during the holiday season. Balancing personal expectations with reality is crucial in both scenarios.

  2. Emotional Impact: Unmet expectations lead to emotional distress, whether in family dynamics or customer interactions.

  3. Communication Breakdown: Dysfunctional family dynamics involve communication breakdowns, similar to the miscommunications that can strain customer-business relationships.

  4. Striving for Perfection: Desire for perfection characterizes both family holiday celebrations and customers seeking flawless products or services.

  5. Managing Conflict: Conflicts may arise in family dynamics or customer-business relationships, necessitating careful resolution for positive connections.

  6. Balancing Act: Striking a balance between individual needs and collective well-being is essential, be it within families or in the realm of customer satisfaction.

  7. Navigating Complexity: Both family dynamics and customer relationships can be complex, requiring empathy, understanding, and effective communication.

  8. Importance of Boundaries: Establishing and respecting boundaries is crucial, whether setting limits with family members during the holidays or defining clear policies in customer interactions.


The lessons learned from navigating customer-business relationships hold valuable insights applicable to the broader spectrum of human interactions, especially within family dynamics. Whether a relationship with your customer or with a family member is mutually beneficial really comes down to shared purpose, equality in the dynamic, and a deep and abiding respect for each other’s role in the relationship. If any of these are missing, the relationship will not function as it should.

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