Originally published on Forbes.com on May 17, 2018.
The customer is always right… right? Not necessarily.
Anyone who has spent time running a business knows there are times when a customer is completely wrong, whether that’s in their perception of your company or product, or their treatment of you and your staff. While your human instinct might tell you to go on the defensive, you sometimes need to swallow your pride and tactfully work with the customer to change their perspective or direct them to another provider.
Fourteen Forbes Coaches Council members offered their thoughts on the idea that “the customer is always right,” and what you should do in times when the customer is, in fact, wrong.
All images courtesy of Forbes Councils members.
1. Focus On Emotional Intelligence And Empathy
There are many situations where this doesn’t ring true in the eye of the company, but the customer’s perception is their reality. By being emotionally intelligent, a leader can help manage and influence the customer’s emotions and reality through listening, validation and empathy. Communicating what your employees are empowered to do to resolve situations will also diffuse these situations. – Gina Trimarco, Pivot10 Results
2. Walk Away If The Customer Doesn’t Hold Up Their End Of The Agreement
Everyone has responsibilities inside the company and customer relationships. In my company, we create and sell digital content. I agree that I will deliver certain types of content and the person agrees to make their recurring payment. While I’m willing to create alternative payment arrangements, if they don’t hold up their end of the agreement, there isn’t much I can do to help them. – Amanda Frances, Amanda Frances Inc
3. Refer Back To Your Mission Statement
Based on my experience as a restaurateur, the customer is often not right. They see based on their agenda, not the big picture, when making demands. When a customer request doesn’t ring true, a leader can refer to the company’s mission statement as a litmus test. If the demand doesn’t align with company values, referring to this declared mission may help the customer to see a different perspective. – Deborah Goldstein, DRIVEN Professionals
4. Offer A Compromise That Satisfies The Customer’s Beliefs
Of course, the customer isn’t always right, but the customer can always be satisfied. As a coach, I’ve had to guide stubborn clients in different directions by painting alternate scenarios for them to be able to envision the difference. When a customer is standing firm in their belief, offering a compromise or alternative solution is a good way to go. This way, everyone is satisfied in the end. – Krista Rizzo, Why Am I Yelling? Life Coaching
5. Understand The Customer’s Problem So You Can Show Them How To Best Solve It
The client often doesn’t know how to best solve their own problem. That’s why they come to you. They’re right, though, about the challenges they face. When you fully understand their problem, the solution you see may be different than theirs. Listen deeply, articulate clearly that you get their issue, then reveal how your solution would better solve their problem. – David Butlein, Ph.D., BLUECASE Strategic Partners
6. Suggest An Alternative Solution If You Can’t Provide What They Need
The phrase “the customer is always right” is helpful because it reminds us to focus on customer needs, and not ours. However, in some instances what a customer needs is not something you can provide. In those situations, you should kindly provide other suggestions or solutions for the customer. Not every customer is a good customer. – Donald Hatter, Donald Hatter Inc.
7. If A Customer Behaves Inappropriately, Tell Them It Won’t Be Tolerated
There are times when customer behavior toward our people is inappropriate and unacceptable. You may need to anticipate situations that will cause customers to behave poorly and proactively address them where practical. In some cases, the loss of employee engagement may warrant letting the customer know their behavior will not be tolerated — even at the risk of losing the customer. – Maureen Metcalf, Metcalf & Associates, Inc
8. Care About The Customer’s Concern, Not About Whether It’s Valid
The customer is, in fact, often wrong. So the question becomes: Do you want to be “right,” or do you want to fix the situation? Try to understand the customer’s concern, not its validity: What are they upset about? Why? And how can you fix it? Unless the customer is becoming intolerable or abusive, just focus on what you can do to make their experience (and yours!) a more positive one. – Jessica Glazer, Center for Creative Leadership
9. Make Customers Feel Valued, Even When They Are Wrong
We live in an entitlement society where everyone expects to get what they want when they want it. A lot of client angst can be avoided through clear processes on the website, agreements and repeated reinforcement in communications. So when things go wrong, assume the client simply wasn’t paying attention and be prepared to guide them with kindness, compassion and professionalism. – Laura DeCarlo, Career Directors International
10. Let The Customer Know They’re Wrong, But Do It With Integrity
Sometimes, the best thing we can do as business leaders is to let our customer know they are wrong. This must be done with integrity and sincerity, and not to shame the customer. If handled appropriately, the customer will trust you more and your relationship will be much better off as a result. – Ryan Miller, The Centennial Group
11. Say ‘No’ by Saying ‘Yes’
Say, “I won’t be able to do that, but here’s what I can do.” Always have something in your back pocket that you can offer to show you are listening and that you care. If the customer continues to adamantly demand something, try to give it to them. The cost will likely be less than potential damage the customer can do by posting negative reviews online and through social media. – Barbara OMalley, Exec Advance LLC
12. Communicate To Ensure The Client Is Still A Fit For Your Company
First, leaders should focus on communicating with the customer to really determine if they are or are not right. Trying to service the client in the best possible way is always healthy. That being said, once you determine a customer may no longer be the right fit, ethically, morally or work-wise, let them go and focus on customers who are a better fit. – Monica Thakrar, MTI
13. Prioritize Ethics Over Customer Satisfaction
Sometimes customers are wrong. They might even be requesting action that, if taken, would be immoral, unprincipled or illegal. While every effort must be taken to create a great experience for any customer, priority must be given to rules of law and a company’s core values and ethics. If a customer can’t appreciate either of those, it is not a customer worth keeping. – Scott Friedman, NeXtGen Advisors LLC
14. Dig Into The Problem Before You Deliver A Solution
Customers — both internal and external — often have a sense of what they want or need. This sense is built on the information that they have available to them, which is often incomplete. Leaders can help clients surface the goals that lie beneath their requests and then offer alternative ways to meet those goals. The client feels heard, and their true needs get met. – Maureen Cunningham, Up Until Now Inc.