Reasons “The Customer Is Always Right” Is Wrong

Since superior customer service is the foundation of every business, we do all we can to ensure each customer is satisfied and has their needs met. A very common saying in customer service is, “The customer is always right.”

This well-known phrase was coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1909 (though some prefer the variations coined by to César Ritz or Marshall Field – it was a popular mentality in 20th century business magnates). As the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London, Selfridge used this frame of mind to convince patrons that they would have an excellent customer experience as well as to simultaneously persuade employees to provide high-quality service. However, ironically, this frame of mind usually leads to poorer customer service.

So we suggest an alternative: Put your employees first and watch them put the customers needs first in return.

Listed below are five reasons why you should abandon this customer-centric motto:

1. It Puts Undo Stress on Employees

No matter your clientele base, you are going to invariably come across at least a few unreasonable, belligerent ones. There are plenty of examples of employees providing subpar customer service. Know how to differentiate between this and an unreasonable customer. Try your best to resolve the conflict, but if it comes to either taking the side of a customer or that of your employee, it is best to choose that of your employee. Supporting your employees will always pay off for your business in the long run. Happy employees will go the extra mile to provide good service and make your customers happy.

Gordon Bethune is a brash Texan who is best known for revamping Continental Airlines. In his book, he discussed this topic.

He said, “You can’t treat your employees like serfs. You have to value them. If they think that you won’t support them when a customer is out of line, even the smallest problem can cause resentment.”

This viewpoint balances the employee and customer relationship. When you consistently value the customer over the employee, it causes resentment among employees. Your customers must understand that while they are valued and appreciated, the business and your employees come first. How your customer feels cannot always come before your team.

2. It Strains the Management-Employee Relationship

If a business owner consistently sides with the customer in times of conflict without giving the employee a chance to provide their input, it demoralizes the employee and can result in hard feelings. The employee often ends up resenting management and becomes bitter. This can affect their job performance, ultimately ending in poorer customer service to other customers.

It might be worth remembering the old popular Latin phrase: caveat emptor – buyer beware. Sometimes the customer may bear some responsibility. Continually taking the customer’s side over your employee’s can also convey to your employee that you do not trust their judgment or ability to address situations themselves. This is a recipe for disaster in any business model.

Amazon, though one of the largest retailers in the world according to Forbes, has suffered many complaints from its workforce. One might attribute that to Jeff Bezos’s long-standing emphasis on customer satisfaction over everything.

3. Some Customers Will Hurt Your Business

It is somewhat logical to assume that in business, the more customers you have, the better. However, holding on to some customers can be bad for your business. Customers who are consistently abusive and rude to your employees – despite the amount of money they contribute to your business – will only end up causing problems and more stress for your employees.

Sometimes, customer complaints might be completely fabricated due to a personal vendetta against the company overall, or one of your workers.

At a certain point, you need to decide if it is better to lose one customer than the loyalty and support of your workforce. It is merely a matter of respecting your employees and treating them with dignity.

Founder of, Anubhav Agarwal, believes: “To stay in business for a long time, entrepreneurs need to avoid unreasonably disgruntled customers. Getting rid of bad customers might cost a little profit, but it’s healthier in the long-term goals of the business.” 

4. It Results in Poorer Customer Service

Employees are much happier and satisfied at work if you put them first. When your workforce is happy, they are much more likely to put your customers first. They will be more energetic, motivated, and more willing to interact with customers. This creates a pleasant environment for both the employee and the customer.  

5. Some Customers Are Wrong

The customer often thinks they know better than employees or share an opinion or advice on how the business should operate or how a product should work. Some can be quite insistent and belligerent. The owner of a company, management, and properly-trained staff know the most about the product or service they provide. It is, after all, their job to know.

Many times, when a product or service does not work as they expect, a customer can become entirely unrealistic or demand ridiculous solutions. The goal should be to stress to these customers professionally that the makers of the product or service are the final authority on its operations and services.

The bottom line: business has changed significantly over the past few decades and many are putting more of an emphasis on employee happiness. It has proven to be an effective method to increase sales and improve customer loyalty. Happy employees = happy customers. While it may be hard to adopt this new mindset, it can be incredibly beneficial to your business both in the short and long term.