CEO Blog

The customer is always right - right?

Anne Marie Forsyth, CEO, CCA

Recently a friend was deeply vexed about her holiday home in France getting a ‘vindictive’ review on a rating site. What made it doubly wounding was the effort she had invested to create a family experience; home from home with loads of extra touches for kids and adults alike.

I listened as she raged about the notion of the customer always being right; in her opinion this customer was simply looking for a large discount and has reacted when this wasn’t given.

The phrase, “The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge’s department store in London, and is typically used by businesses to convince customers that they will get good service at this company and convince employees to give customers good service.

One US airline company took an opposite approach in dealing with a complaining customer. A woman who frequently flew on Southwest was constantly disappointed with every aspect of the company’s operation. In fact, she became known as the ‘Pen Pal’ because after every flight she wrote in with a complaint. A final note detailing a litany of complaints, stumped Southwest’s customer relations people. They forwarded it up to Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest at the time with a note, “This one’s yours”. In sixty seconds Kelleher wrote back and said, “Dear Mrs. Crabapple, we will miss you. Love, Herb.”

His rationale was support for his employees. If employees feel that customers are always right, even if they are rude, they will be demotivated, potentially leading to poorer customer service overall.

Uber of course reversed our thinking on customer satisfaction with their system - how good a customer are you?

Achieving consistency between customer and employee satisfaction is always a delicate balance, where visibility and understanding of each set of needs is vital to ensure that there is an equilibrium. Keeping everyone happy all of the time is a pipe dream for most organisations - instead real progress depends on demonstrating trusted relationships where employees witness a genuine enterprise-wide respect for customers, and customers in turn know that the organisation respects and backs its employees.

Allowing advisors the permission to sort out genuine customer grievances immediately is wise; it depends hugely on well trained, empathetic, experienced people who can make good judgements.

Our recent Future Workforce report where we asked almost 400 front-line agents what life was like today in customer service, showed they feel their business doesn’t understand the increasing complexity of dealing with emotional customers with additional needs and we need to find a way to address this. 

CCA Inspire programme is designed specifically to develop colleagues to be the best they can be. Our current intake sees 62 top talent advisors starting a whole new programme of learning, to support them with difficult interactions confidently - to find out more get in touch.

Have a great weekend!

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