Customer Relations Management (CRM)


Have you ever had the opportunity to serve a customer/client while there are circumstances challenging the quality of service? Have you noticed in the majority of instances that when a customer complains about a product or mode of service, the efforts of management to quickly seek resolution in favor of the customer is paramount? Have you ever wondered why?

Many scholars and business personnel do not agree with this attempt to appease the customer, and points to a business Policy & Procedure framework as a means to settle customer disputes. However, one must understand that policy and procedures are a set of internal guidelines that establish the rules and expectations of a company. Is it therefore a stretch to imagine many businesses do not have robust policies and procedures where customers are concerned? Many do not believe in today’s business operations that the “customer is always right”. In fact, the majority of today’s leaders/managers believe this is an outdated slogan, and as such the solution for customer complaints rests in the application of stringent policy regulations and procedures in solving customer dilemmas. However, there remains an avenue many do not examine when such an instance arises, and this may lead to legal challenges. To mitigate such instances, a company will therefore go to the extreme in assuring a customer’s needs are met before it is addressed within the confines of the law. There is nothing more destructive than a vitriol and vindictive customer seeking a “free meal” or one who is desirous of damaging your business and reputation to get their way.

For the company that is able to resolve such conflicts within the business policy and procedures it will seem a slam dunk. To others who navigate the treacherous unscrupulous business environment (especially retail and food), the answer is not that simple. Many dishonest customers will scent the proverbial “blood in the water” and exploit a business for nefarious gains. For many to understand the meaning of the phrase “the customer is always right”, one must examine its first usage and the implied meaning of the phrase. The reality of who first coined the phrase seems to revolve around Harry Gordon Selfridge (1909), Cesar Ritz, and Marshall Fields. It was a business mentality embraced by magnates within the hospitality/service industries in the early 20th century. As hotelier Cesar Ritz of the world renown Ritz Carlton hotels put it “Le client n’a jamais tort” (the customer is never wrong). This statement was restated to reflect the current version of the phrase. The saying is not on a case-by-case basis, but a wider concept for engaging customers to resolve every issue affecting the shopping experience, with the expectation of client retention. One should therefore understand the hospitality environment at the moment in time when this concept was envisaged since personal service was the reality of the business model.

Acuity of leadership should not see such a unique concept work 100% when customer buy manufactured items since they are created far away from access sales point and not exposed to the direct service platform. Any fault/failure with a created product must be returned to the point of manufacture to be corrected even when created of less quality. For service platforms, the creation of quality service is immediately useable at the point of contact, hence resolution of challenges requires critical thinking skills as well as astute risk management solutions to be satisfactorily resolved. The exception is when an unbalanced or unethical customer becomes vitriol and unrealistic in their expectations. This should be the exception instead of the rule of norm.

In an article for the Zendesk Blog, Erin Hueffner a staff writer verbalized the statement in this manner, “The customer is always right” is a time-honored business philosophy. But is it true? The argument presented a brief history of the origins and acceptance of the statement and presented sound points as to the stance taken on the statement to refute its essence in practicing excellent customer service. The belief by the writer is that “in the early 1900s, “The customer is always right” meant treating customers with respect and dignity, something that wasn’t commonplace, So, in comparison is it of any relevance in today’s customer management scenario? Read the 5 reasons given for this stance here 


I believe the statement has been twisted from its original meaning, and so to fully understand the original concept one should examine its essence in driving servitude in the hospitality industry.

The first reason why the customer is always right is the reality that they make and break a business. For instance, customer complaints can hurt your business when resolution is tardy and lack real-time solutions. Their complaints, feedback and opinions are invaluable for understanding your target market in terms of what they want and need in your service or product. While there is an emerging thought process among today’s leaders to the contrary, the complaints of customers even when misplaced (or downright wrong), gives CRM leaders opportunities to improve employee training to mitigate the risks. Saying the customer is always right does not make it true, especially when there are unrealistic expectations.

The second reason for stating customer is always right, is that it emphasizes the importance of providing the best possible customer service, so your patrons are satisfied and come back. No employee is expected when confronted by an unreasonable customer to respond in kind. Neither should leaders encourage unreasonable behaviors from customers. The leader’s actions must show support for employees when the customer is unreasonable, while providing a resolution to the problem. There are myriad of reasons why customers become irate, so it is incumbent on service providers to manage rude responses to toxic situations. Every team member must be at peak performance to remain engaged pointedly in serving customers.

The third point for focusing on this statement is the realization that unsatisfied customers, albeit for unscrupulous reasons, still exist in the marketplace. Just as good customers become dependable clients over time, bad customers become a threat within the same space. Since word of mouth is the best advertisement, it will take only a few negative utterances to see a negative effect on a business when care is not given to address these risks.

Do leaders always adhere to procedures and do they adhere to strict policies when dealing with customers of unsavory character? Is the aim and purpose of exceptional customer service to identify customer threats and turn them into opportunities?

The main focus of leadership in dealing with customers who “are always right” is not to be right at all times, but to find a point/platform on which customer concerns are heard, efforts are made to find measurable solutions, with the vision of converting challenging customers into long-term clients. Therefore, any measure and attempt to address negative customers in a positive light, will give that individual the impression that they are in the right. Can these person then believe they are always right? 

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