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7 Reasons The Customer is Not Always Right

Gary Cox is a great Quality resource in addition to being very funny!

Reasons: #1 The Customer is not the Expert;#2 Direct Impact on Employee Morale; #3 Limited Resources; #4 Needlessly Creates Conflict; #5 Not every Customer is not worth retaining; #6 Resistance to Change; #7 One Bad Customer Can Ruin the Day

REFLECTION: FOR STUDENTS: How should you evaluate the needs of a single customer vs. the needs of the customer population and the resources of the company/institution, and become aware that an individual's displeasure may not be relevant and may actually disrupt opportunities for future individuals?

FOR ACADEMICS: Academics may run into ranting students who want a paid-for grade. Do you consider how the "the customer is always right" approach can create an environment of high burnout for your best professors and students, and how to protect your resources (good students and engaged professors)?

FOR PROFESSIONALS/PRACTITIONERS: Do you and your colleagues work under a QMS that prevents a single customer from disrupting your business model, or do you work with some who follow the "customer is always right" mantra even when it hurts the business?

IS the customer always right? Well...not exactly. (Negotiation From a Weak Position)

We have all heard the old adage "The customer is always right...", and likely you have used those very words used in a hostile way toward a customer service person who is simply following the business protocol.

Then there are the instances of seriously ridiculous demands and ensuing arguments that hold up lines for much longer than needed had the offended customer just accepted they were not going to get what they wanted (reminiscent of a petulant child).

I have been educated in quality for 20 years, yet I have also been dead wrong many times, as has everyone else around me. Humans are fallible, so if we raise the customer to the level of being unable to make a mistake, then in any interaction with the customer, the supplier has given up 100% of his or her negotiation power. Negotiating with someone who is not only wrong but may also harm your company would be foolish.

Allowing negative behavior to destroy employee morale while marauding customers force a company to use up vital resources, which can severely hurt your best customers.

Customer expectations? Nonsense. No customer ever asked for the electric light, the pneumatic tire, the VCR, or the CD. All customer expectations are only what you and your competitor have led him to expect. He knows nothing else. -W. Edwards Deming

Reason #1 The Customer is not the Expert

Cognitive bias (also known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect) can be a major factor leading to the customer making unreasonable demands, even when they are clearly wrong to make such demands. Who could know your own product or service better than you? Sometimes, a customer thinks they are the expert and assumes something is supposed to work a certain way and then presume to know how to run your business just because they have some slight knowledge of your business.

This can reach ridiculous proportions. The man is angry that his hospital food is not steak. The woman is angry that her professor will not provide an A (even when none of the proper assignments were completed). The child who is angry that the pet shelter doesn’t have the color cat they desire!

Usually, this happens more frequently at a much smaller magnitude. For instance-A customer who did not read the product instructions proceeds to damage the product and then blame the vendor. Also, there is the dreaded customer who was sure they knew what they were buying and then becomes outraged because they did not quite understand what the product was or what it did, or perhaps when the customer destroyed your product by using it improperly and demands a refund.

Rather than acting like the customer is always right, the better path is to always interact with your customers as if you are the expert -you are usually the more knowledgeable party, but be aware of the true possible expert customer. Obviously, obnoxious or arrogant behavior toward a customer is just asking for a fight, so you should always act helpfully while always trying to help them understand the best ways to utilize your product or service. Help them to see that your product or service is to be employed in a particular way and do it cooperatively.

Stay calm, listen to customers and use active listening. Try to empathize, keep your tone positive, and assume all customers are watching with smartphones recording you. Never get angry: If the customer will not relent and follow the defined policies (and always admit when the customer was right!), do not keep fighting. Just call the manager and let management support you. At this point, just calling the manager may seem to be a weak move, but if someone is here for a fight, giving them the fight they want can have a massive impact on the company's reputation and even bring about legal issues (Hawthorne, 2013).

Reason#2 Direct Impact on Employee Morale

You will eventually encounter overbearing, rude, or even hostile customers, especially when your business serves a large number of customers. If you deal with 100 customers per week, there’s a good chance that two to ten of them will be in the mood to disrupt the normal routine.

Some customers will not be placated. Your focus is now on dealing with unreasonable customers with minimal damage. If we empower all customers, the employees can become miserable, basically abused by customers who want as much as possible for zero extra payment (which usually lands on the shoulders of those servicing the customer or producing and documenting a product).

For this reason, employees need management support: Each employee needs an SOP to follow, and management should back that up with some flexibility based upon risk, but management should have to make that call, not the front-line employee. The supported employee is able to negotiate from a position of power (they have what the customer wants), and the customer has the power to choose the vendor, putting everyone on a more equal footing, and helping to prevent either party from trying to employ bullying tactics.

Training is crucial. All employees should be well-trained in Ethics, Empathy, and SOPs relevant to customer interaction. The more supported the employees are, the better the customer service will be, and unhappy employees will frequently transmit that feeling directly to the customer via poor customer service. (Hawthorne, 2013)

Reason#3 Limited Resources

Any smart company would have a strategically designed product/service based upon the Kano Model to have a better chance of meeting most customers’ (must-have) expectations and using customer feedback to develop linear (satisfier) features, as well as excluding reverse (don’t want) features. Indifferent requirements (those that really do not matter to most customers) can often be some of the biggest sticking points for unruly customers. Development of Exciter (delighter) features for your product or service will solidify your customer base and loyalty and provide you more power to choose your customer (Kubiak, 2017).

Your company and your fellow employees have limited resources. You have limited time, money, energy, and even patience. Simply put: As was stated in the previous segment, some customers will never be satisfied, despite the unreasonable lengths to which you may push yourself. Regardless of any resources expended, this type of customer will still return to you unsatisfied.

If the best attempt has been put forward to deal with the issue (per company policy), move on guilt-free. It is your responsibility to continue to serve others despite an individual customer’s dissatisfaction. Running a business model that can be changed per a customer’s whim makes resource allocation almost impossible. Unless you are a very low-volume custom shop, you likely meet the needs of many other customers, as well as support your employees. Siphoning off resources for the sake of one customer should be considered irresponsible (Hawthorne, 2013).

Reason#4 Needlessly Creates Conflict

Conflict is the result of mutually exclusive objectives or views which present themselves as emotional responses such as anger, fear, or frustration (CSSBB Primer, 2014).

As I discussed in the first section, “Negotiation From a Weak Position” should never be an option. When the customer is always right, the most likely outcome is a conflict between the customers and employees, with the customers always coming out on top. This creates problems on multiple levels that can severely damage the interconnectedness of your organization.

-It undermines the authority and control of the employees.

-It often causes employee resentment against managers.

-It signals that management supports customers more than employees.

-It shows a lack of trust that employees can appropriately resolve difficult situations.

-The reality is that supporting your employees will lead to happier customers.

Alexander Kjerulf writes: Believing the customer is always right is a subconscious way of favoring the customer over the employee, which can lead to resentment among employees. When managers put the employees first, the employees will then put the customers first. Put employees first, and they will be happy at work (Hawthorne, 2013).

Reason#5 Every Customer is not worth retaining

Yes, customer retention and good reviews are critical to the long-term success of a business, but there are some customers you simply do not want. There may be situations when you will have to “fire” a customer for the sake of protecting your company and employees. If your goals are set on the realization of your long-term vision, you will certainly need to avoid the customers than hinder your business.

Bad customers can be toxic to your company and can poison your business. The results can often be the erosion of employee morale over time, the required diversion of resources, and damage to your employees with stress and conflict (possibly leading to higher turnover rates). Customers that act out consistently without being handled properly by management can damage your “good” customer’s desire even to frequent your establishment. If a customer constantly complains, abuses employees, or creates stress for your company, they’re not worth it, irrelevant to how much money they pay (Hawthorne, 2013).

Reason#6 Resistance to Change

Any time a business makes changes, they will receive often seem to encounter some level of backlash from customers, even if they are good changes in the long run. This seeming resistance can come from two primary sources: First (and most often), is that the customer does not feel like they had any say in the change. When a company fails to obtain proper buy-in from a stakeholder, there will be some measure of “backlash” from those who are being told, “now this is how it is, and we do not care about your opinion”. Usually, as long as the change is worthwhile and good for the stakeholders (customers), the customers will come around as long as we listen and treat them well while explaining the change.

The other source of resistance (usually from “bad” customers) comes from those who are simply unwilling to accept any sort of change beyond the status quo. When any change occurs, these customers will throw a fit even when most customers have given a full buy-in to the company. You cannot provide the unreasonable “the world can never change” customers a platform to yell at the top of their lungs while running good customers away. Hundreds of bad reviews could follow just from the antics of one bad customer. This kind of customer should be handled by management before they can do irreparable damage to your business image (Hawthorne, 2013).

Reason#7 One Bad Customer Can Ruin the Day

Let us look at it from a hypothetical perspective: You operate a small business, and the same customer comes in once per week, always on the same day, but we never know at what time. Said Bad Customer has an entire array of bad behavior to throw at the employees, from ranting about service (that everyone else loves), yelling and screaming at the manager to clean up (when the place is pretty much immaculate), or complaining about product selection or computerized ordering as loudly and for as long as possible.

Over time, everyone in town learns that this is the day to stay away because no other customer wants to endure the ordeal. The employees begin fighting each other to avoid that day of work, causing some bad feelings and decreased harmony in the workplace. If left unchecked, this “I’m the customer” customer will cost the business almost 52 working days of viable business per day, and some good employees will likely be lost. Some staunchly believe in a “the customer is always” right philosophy, but what if it were your business?

These types of customers simply aren’t right for your business, and your employees should have the authority to deal with them appropriately (Hawthorne, 2013).


From my viewpoint, all seven of these reasons boil down to different aspects of Management Support provided (or not provided) to the Employees to properly do the job. It is obvious you and your employees should always aim for world-class customer service. Treat your employees well, and your employees will treat your customers reciprocally and be much happier. While interacting happily with customers, the employees will be more likely to go the extra distance for the customer, as they know their company has their back. Every time a positive customer experience occurs, it is like a shot of dopamine, and as long as there is a good relationship with management, the happy employees will generally handle things in the most positive way for the company, even when dealing with challenging situations.


-CSSBB Primer. (2014). West Terre Haute, Indiana: Quality Council of Indiana.

-DeAngelis, T. (2003, Feb). Retrieved from

-Hawthorne, J. (2013, April 13). customer-experience/7-reasons-customers-not-always-right-01816088. Retrieved from:

- (n.d.).

-Kubiak, T. a. (2017). The Certified Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook Third Edition. Milwaukee: ASQ Quality Press.

IASSC Certified Lean Six Sigma Training at the Yellow Belt, Green Belt, and Black Belt levels, $185.00

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