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- Elon Musk, Investor & Entrepreneur
5 min read
By Lisa Teh

Why “a customer is always right approach” isn’t always right


It’s a common saying in customer service that “the customer is always right”, but—what about when they aren’t? No one is always right all the time, and if you try to constantly appease everyone by the end you will be left exhausted AND falling short in your goal.

Harry Selfridge founded Selfridge’s Department Store in 1908 and meant well when he came up with the phrase “the customer is always right.” In theory, telling customers that they’re right and employees will do all they can to prove it sounds like a recipe for customer satisfaction and return business.

However, over a century later the time has come for businesses to bury this rigid concept once and for all.

Here are the five reasons (and nails in its coffin) to lay this idea to rest.


In any business, the employees are the face of the company who directly interacts with its customers. When a customer is challenging, confrontational, or just plain rude the front line worker has to balance trying to appease the customer while doing their job as directed.

If someone steps to the counter of the express checkout with “12 Items or Less” clearly written above their head with a cart overflowing it is the employee’s job to redirect them (politely) to another line.

In this situation let’s say the employee calls over a manager to help, but instead of backing up the employee, the manager and allows the customer to use the speedy checkout because “the customer is always right.” One of the fastest ways to create resentful staff is to not back them up especially when they are simply trying to enforce the rules they are paid to do so.


Ever want to figure out who is losing an argument? Just look for the person to yell.

This adage should be true as the first person to lose control of their emotions in an argument is only detracting from his point. The louder he becomes the less he is heard. Unfortunately, when a business operates from the stance that the customer cannot be wrong it rewards unruly behavior by caving to the customer’s demands.

Once a customer learns (or business gets a reputation) that regardless of how customers act they will get what they want—it breeds an entitled customer position.

That entitlement can become contagious as reasonable customers learn that abusive customers get treated better than they do—and they cycle of resentment turning to abusive customers continues.


If you have ever heard the expression “quality over quantity” then you understand what we’re talking about. Outside of the attitude and cultural impact bad customers have on employees is the dollar and cents truth that it is expensive to constantly hire and train new employees.

In addition to the upfront costs of the hiring process is the hidden expense that employees who are unhappy and resentful are less productive which can hit a company in its bottom line.

A far better investment for a company’s long term health is to make its employees feel valued and appreciated—which starts with making sure they feel supported. If a customer is abusive to staff, regardless of the company’s best efforts to resolve issues in a respectful way, then it is better for everyone involved to let the customer go.

There is a far higher chance that the customer will repeatedly be unhappy and abusive to employees, so the sooner both sides move on the better.


When a company puts its employees first, then they in turn will put the customers first. It is a top-down approach that will foster happier employees who can provide better customer service because:

  • When employees feel cared for they have more compassion to care for the customers.
  • Employees have more energy and less stress.
  • They are more motivated to actively troubleshoot customers’ concerns.

Conversely, if a company consistently takes the customer’s side over the employees it sends the message that:

  • The employees’ opinions, feelings, and views are not valued.
  • Being fair to the employee doesn’t matter.
  • Respect, from both customers and management, is not a priority for the employees.
  • Ultimately, the employee is powerless and has to put up with anything and everything from customers.

Quality customer service is only possible if employees care enough to put forth the effort to do so, and that starts with a company caring enough about them to have their backs.


In the example of the customer trying to scan 100 items in the “12 Item Express Lane,” the math simply doesn’t add up.

A restaurant patron sporting Nazi attire who tosses racial slurs to an African-American waitress is the furthest thing from a customer being right, and should be a blatant example of how backing someone like this destroys the mirage of “the customer is always right.”


It doesn’t take a very deep dive through the sea of viral clips across the internet of customers behaving badly, but rather than agree with them, companies need to take a stance—one that backs up the employees being berated by them. Change starts from the top, so to build an atmosphere of support the higher-ups have to lead by example.

It’s a given that customers are valuable to any business, but letting abusive ones run rampant as they hide under the idea that they are never wrong, will only fester and spread a toxic culture. The first and most effective step at stopping the spread is through the frontline workers who deal with these types of people. When a business backs its employees it gives them the tools to stand up to abusive customers and ideally resolve the conflict, but if need be then part ways with them.

About the author


Co-Founder of Lisnic 🌏 Founder of CODI Agency (Digital Marketing)📱
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