In fact, the customer is frequently quite wrong. “The customer is always right” is an error and a cop-out.
It’s an error because the merchant or vendor almost always knows far more about what they’re selling than the customer. So if there is any disagreement between the two, the probability is that the customer is wrong. For instance, suppose I take my car to a mechanic, and tell him that it’s not working properly and could he please change my spark plugs to fix the problem. He runs some diagnostics, and discovers the computer chip is actually what’s causing the issue – the spark plugs are fine. If he does what the customer wants, he will a) not fix the problem, and b) be charging me for work that he knows is unnecessary. It’s his moral duty to tell me (the customer) that I’m wrong.
So that’s why it’s an error – why is it a cop-out?
Because it gives employees in difficult situations “permission” to do something they know is not in the customer’s best interest. Years ago, I had a stranger come into my bar and ask for my finest V.S.O.P. Cognac. On ice. With Coke. If I were morally stronger, I would have tried to dissuade him from that travesty, but the customer is always right, so I served it to him. I’ve felt unclean ever since. I’ve been able to rationalize it by thinking that this patron had some kind of mutant taste bud configuration that actually made this the appropriate way for him to drink cognac…
Another example of people who frequently fold under the “always right” mantra are designers. When I hire designers for Web sites, brochures, packaging, advertising, etc., I try and give them (mostly) free rein. Ask Stephen Brander at Razor Creative. I figure, why am I paying them if I’m going to dilute their ideas? But as most designers will tell you, clients frequently try and impose their concepts and preferences on the work. And the designers usually cave, for fiscal reasons. Check out this comic.
What we should take away from the “always right” notion that is valuable, however, is that the customer’s perceptions are always right, to them. So if they have a problem or complaint that you can clearly see is unfounded, incorrect, or in some other way nonsensical; remember it makes perfect sense in their world.