I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the phrase, “The customer is always right.” While I always strived to give my customers the very best service and give them the benefit of the doubt I do not believe the customer is always right. That expression has fostered decades of abuse by nasty customers.
I can cite many examples to support my belief but one remains especially fresh in my memory. One afternoon about 20 years ago a circulation clerk at the daily newspaper I was managing told me that one of our subscribers had called her multiple times that day using profane language each time.
I asked for the complete story. This customer, she explained, lived on the tail end of a carrier route. He was upset that he had to wait until nearly 4:30 p.m. to get his afternoon newspaper. He asked his carrier to flip the route so that he would get his newspaper first, by about 3:30 p.m.
The carrier correctly told him that flipping the delivery sequence would unnecessarily add time to his route and his district manager at the newspaper supported him. Unhappy with that explanation, the subscriber called the circulation department and profanely expressed his displeasure to a clerk. Repeatedly.
When the clerk reported the situation to me, I told her if or when he calls again warn him that if he continues swearing you will hang up. If he doesn’t quit, hang up. Then let me know about it.
The next afternoon the circulation clerk came to my office and advised that she had followed my instructions. Within a few minutes my phone rang and it was the unhappy subscriber.
“I want to report (name of clerk) for poor customer service. She hung up on me,” the subscriber complained.
“Really,” I responded, “did she say why she hung up on you?”
There was silence on the other end of the line.
“I understand you’ve been pretty vulgar,” I said. “Is that correct?”
After a pause, the caller admitted he had. “But, I’m really (expletive) at you (expletive) guys,” he added.
“Here’s the deal,” I said. “I told (clerk) to warn you that she would hang up if you kept cussing.”
“That’s not good customer service,” he protested.
“Good customer service does not require us to put up with abuse,” I said. “I can’t afford to pay my employees enough to put up with your behavior.”
The caller reiterated his unwillingness to wait until 4:30 to get his newspaper delivered. I pointed out that our carriers had until 5 p.m. to complete their deliveries. His carrier regularly delivered his newspaper well before 5 p.m. and had no obligation to change the route. Then, in childish fit of temper, the caller profanely demanded again that he be the first on his route to receive his newspaper.
I finally said, “I’m sorry we’re making you so upset. I think I know how to resolve this.”
“How’s that?” he demanded.
“Effective tomorrow, we will no longer deliver a newspaper to you. That should end your frustration with us.”
“You can’t do that,” the subscriber demanded.
“Yes, I can; and I will send you a check for the unused portion of your subscription.”
“You can’t do that,” he repeated. Then he dropped a few more expletives and hung up.
Two days later he came into our office and approached the circulation clerk he had dealt with earlier. “If I apologize to you and promise not to cuss at you anymore,” he said, “will you start delivering my newspaper again?”
The clerk assured him that we would. He explained that when his wife found out what he had done she angrily demanded that he apologize and get delivery started again.
In some 50 years as a consumer I have almost always experienced favorable customer service by explaining a problem respectfully. In most cases the resolution to the problem was more than fair.
The customer is not always right. Certainly businesses should try to appease unhappy customers but verbal abuse from those customers should not be tolerated. Mollycoddling only makes the monster meaner.