That’s Rich! By Rich Lindblom

This may be more than a little controversial but trust me, it’s not a typo. You read that headline right — the customer isn’t always right.

When I was younger, let’s say in my twenties, I used to really let customers get under my skin.  It would absolutely drive me nuts when someone would complain about this or that and I knew deep down inside that they were totally wrong.  To me, giving them what they wanted, especially when I knew it was just plain wrong, was like losing the argument.  And anyone who knows me knows how much I hate to lose at anything, including an argument. It was very difficult for me to concede and it created a lot of stress for me. 

Fast forward to today. If you’ve been in retail for any length of time there is one absolute certainty, and that is that at some point in time a customer has told you “The customer is always right” or something similar. 

Fortunately for me, I realized about thirty years ago that this simply wasn’t true. Plain and simple, the customer is not always right. And trust me, it’s OK for you to feel that way too. Go ahead, you can say it, it’s not a bad thing. In fact, coming to that realization was somewhat liberating for me, and allowed me to look at things from a different perspective. 

But there is also one big caveat to this revolutionary concept. It’s a saying I came up with when I had my revelation thirty years ago. It’s actually a variation on the old “customer is always right” adage, and I believe it puts everything into perspective. So here is my slightly different version of that maxim:

The customer isn’t always right, but they pay for the privilege of being wrong.

I’m sure some of you absolutely disagree with what I’m saying.  Some will call it blasphemy or even retail heresy. But I warned you upfront that this may be controversial, and I’d ask you to take a moment to really think about my new spin on that old expression. 

For starters, there is simply no way possible that every customer could always be right.  And sometimes they are just flat out wrong.  So why are well all expected to pretend that they aren’t?  The reality is that customers have been trainedover the years to believe they’re always right and that you, the retailer, must accept that. 

Now please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here; I’m not saying you should treat your customers like they’re criminals or tell them to pound sand when they complain. 

The purpose of this article is to try and help you put things in the proper perspective.  This way, the next time you get that complaining customer, instead of getting mad at him, yourself or your staff, you can take a step back and realize that in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong.    

Let go of your anger or frustration, whether it’s with the customer specifically or the situation in general. Take a deep breath and remember that the only thing that truly matters is that the customer is giving you money.  After all, isn’t that why we all own a company in the first place, to earn a living? 

Once you fully accept the concept that it’s OK for them to be wrong because they are paying you for that privilege,you’ll find it much easier to deal with those situations. So go ahead, let them be wrong! It’s worth it.

Rich Lindblom is a former principal of Advanced Maytag Home Appliance Center in Schaumburg, Ill., and member of the Maytag Leadership Council. He recently sold the 64-year-old family business and retired after four decades in independent retail. Got something on your mind? You can reach Rich at egvrich@gmail.com.