The customer is mostly right

Understanding what it takes to provide great service starts with the famous adage about customers: that they are always right. The next step is to acknowledge that the adage must not always be true when you learn about the customer’s story. Yes, the customer deserves to be upset when they bad things happen, and customers often feel that situations did not unfold in the way that they wanted.

But what does it mean to know whether the customer is actually right? And does it matter? I believe that one of the tenets of providing great service is to presume the customer is the most valuable actor in the customer relationship. Then, when you work back from what actually happens when things go wrong, you learn valuable insights about the process, the customer, and the situation. The customer might be right. Your goal should be to demonstrate empathy to the customer while also solving the problem.

Ask yourself: given perfect information, what would you want to know to fix a situation gone south? And what was the actual information? What should have happened at each point in the process, and what actually happened?

When an error happens, solving it involves understanding what happened, when it happened, where it happened, who was involved, and the impact of the error. Whether you apply the 5 Whys technique or another method of getting to the bottom of the problem, an error is an excellent time to examine the holes in your leaky process bucket and make sure they don’t happen again.

The next time you find an error and the customer wants to tell you what it takes to make it right, listen! They are the best arbiters of what they believe will solve a problem. But they are also often blind to the larger context (what is a just solution or a good solution may not look the same for every customer). Start with the tenet of “do what’s right for the customer”, and the question of whether the customer is actually right will sort itself out in the end.


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