As it appeared in the Daily Nation on February 23rd 2016
Is the Customer Always Right? After corporate Customer Experience pep-talks and even during trainings this question always comes up. Why would someone ask this question yet they know the answer already? It is quite interesting because I know that most participants wish that I could quickly jump in with a YES. Once in a while I request the participant who asked the question to answer it and sometime if time allows I involve other participants. What do you think? Do you really think the customer is always right?
All of us are customers, are we always right? Are we not sometimes wrong? For instance, if I erroneously send money to the wrong person via the mobile phone why blame Safaricom? Or if I do not ask the waiter to make my chicken curry mild and she delivers it hot– whose fault is it? What about if I fail to pay my bill and the internet gets disconnected without warning – whose fault is it? Isn’t the customer evidently on the wrong?
I had an interesting experience in January this year. I wrote a cheque to ZUKU and I mistakenly jotted the year as 2015 instead of 2016. Unfortunately the person who received the cheque did not notice but the error was noted before banking and immediately my account was disconnected and I was alerted about “my” error and how it would have cost ZUKU a lot of money in bank charges for banking an expired cheque. I authorized the staff to change the 5 to a 6 by joining the lower gap on the 5 but he declined. He indicated that the bank would not accept a tampered cheque. Back to the question – whose fault was it? Is the staff not expected to confirm if the dates were right the same way a waiter is expected to ask if you want your curry hot or mild? Why did they have to disconnect the service? It was my fault and I need not agonize over it.
Truth be told, I have not yet recovered from the above ZUKU experience. I was branded as being in the wrong yet the staff would have avoided the occurrence had they confirmed the date on the cheque. As a result of this experience, I have decided to take a much needed break from the internet service. I am back on the modem despite the fact that there is more value in wifi than in a single use modem. I totally agree I was in the wrong but was that the best way of dealing with a customer’s simple mistake at the turn of the year.
I refer to the saying that “The customer is always right” as an old wise saying that we need not argue about. Some of the phrase’s that feature on my list of phrases that frontline staff need to avoid are “You are wrong”, “You are mistaken” and “It is your fault”. If you are still waiting for my straight answer, it is a NO with a BUT. The customer is NOT always right BUT they are always the customer. Any student of English grammar will tell you that when BUT is used in a sentence, it negates the first part of the sentence. We need to apologize and find an amiable solution even when the customer is wrong. By so doing we win the customer!
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy