Is the Customer Always Right?


Over the weekend I was in a line at a chain restaurant where a customer had pushed his way into the front of the line and began ranting about something wrong with his order, and he demanded to see the manager immediately. While I tried to ignore him without success I heard him say at one point “The customer is always right you know!”

This made me think about it for a moment. While there may have been an issue with his order all resources were being expended to correct his issue while other customers waited. When I finally got to the front to order the person behind the cash register said. “He forgot to order an item and so it wasn’t given to him.” This made me think, is the customer always right?


If you were to ask a customer they might think so… after all this motto has been around for awhile and is engrained in the way we expect service to be delivered. The premise is that through the delivery of a particular service(s) that customer satisfaction is the primary objective. For some this may imply that we do whatever is needed to achieve this objective. You may have also heard the phrase customer is king.


The challenge is that people, much like kings, can be wrong from time to time. What is important is how the interaction is handled by the service provider.


The flaw in this example, in my opinion, is giving the customer whatever they want. Whether you believe they are right or not at the end of the day the way in which you manage this interaction will ultimately determine the baseline of how you deliver service. Rather than simply giving them whatever they wanted, asking them what they believe was expected and what was wrong may have more value long term. At the very least soliciting this information will allow you as a service provider the opportunity to minimize this type of challenge going forward. In this example if the order could have been verified beforehand, perhaps this item wouldn’t have been missed at all. The risk is that the delivery of service to the other customers was delayed as a result, while you have appeased one customer you may have inadvertently put off other customers.


Determining a strategy for this interaction needs to be identified so that if (and when) this sort of issue arises your staff who deal directly with customers will be able to address each escalation in a consistent way. Don’t forget they are also feeling frustrated from bad service delivery, since they are on the front lines. Documenting a list of customer impacting issues will allow you to improve service to all customers, not just the ones which are experiencing issues.


This applies to the delivery of IT services to our business in the same way and is why service management is important. Being able to not only manage, but continuously review and improve the customer experience will allow you to enable your business to reach their goals.


I would love to hear some feedback on this topic.



2 thoughts on “Is the Customer Always Right?”

  1. Ryan,

    In the USMBOK, we talk about this as part of "42" — the key elements (basics) of service management. Two items:
    * In 42-terms, we refer to this as the moment when "the emotional genie is released from the bottle." The thing is that once the "emotional genie" is released, you just can't stuff it back in. We're talking about a customers negative experience of the provider. Most "intuitive" means of addressing this seem to magnify the problem and the customer's discontent.
    * You need more than a strategy for this type of interaction. Strategies aren't operational, they inform operations. You need an action plan (and all that would support that) which addresses it. We (and many others) refer to this as "customer recovery."

    Accounting for these two items is not hard or time consuming, but it does require:
    1. A new orientation than most are used to
    2. Dedicated time/attention to examining it


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