The old adage, “the customer is always right” makes me and probably most business managers cringe. We know this just isn’t true… and we hate having to pretend it is.
I mean, if I’m the customer, I am right. I paid for a Grande and you gave me a Tall; I clicked “skip this month” on my subscription and you charged me anyway; that guy on the end of your customer service line was a complete d*** (I hope you really were recording that convo “for quality assurance purposes”). These things are true, fact, reality. This is not my impression of your business, this is your business. I feel compelled to bring this to your attention so you can do better. So I can come back and buy from you again. So I can tell 10 of my friends how great you were in acknowledging your mistake and not how much you suck.
Now, when I am the business and you are the customer, sometimes you are right – and when you are, I will acknowledge it and make it up to you. EVERY TIME. When you tell me your discount was not applied and I see from your receipt that you paid the full retail price, it’s my bad, without question. When I ship your club shipment to your home, which is now your former home because you moved and forgot to tell me, it’s your bad… but I’ll still take care of it for you and pretend like I should have known this all along. But when you stretch the truth, flat out lie, or create a situation where I have to be the bad guy (because you are clearly an irrational person and there is no possibility of reasoning with you), you are not right. You are wrong. I, of course, cannot tell you this because you are the customer. “The customer is always right.”
Rarely in life is it fair to say “always” or “never,” so acknowledging this is a starting point. So how do I let you know that you are wrong in this instance, and still keep you as a happy and loyal customer? Well, here’s my motto: “The customer is not always right, but the customer always comes first.” And here’s how I will show it to you:
I put my feelings aside.
This can be extremely difficult to do, but I know that if we’re both emotional, nothing good will come out of our exchange. As the business manager, I have to be the grown-up and remember that while I know you are wrong, you think you are right. So I will strive not to be defensive, and hopefully the more I can show I am level-headed, the sooner you might realize you are acting like a nitwit.
I acknowledge your feelings.
I may not agree with you, but you are entitled to your feelings. Somewhere wires got crossed and now you are angry, frustrated, or disappointed. Maybe all of these emotions and more. It’s okay that you feel this way, and I am sorry that you do. (I’m not admitting fault, I’m just regretful that we are here together in this unhappy moment. Neither of us are happy about it.)
I take responsibility for what I may have done to make you feel this way.
Something happened. You didn’t just come to be upset out of nowhere (unless you are a complete lunatic, which is likely not the case). Even if I truly did nothing wrong, I obviously did not manage your expectations well and somehow let you down. So, let’s start there. My prices have gone up. I no longer produce that Syrah you loved. Your dog isn’t welcome anymore and neither is your picnic lunch… oh and your rambunctious child, don’t even get me started. Not only are these realities, but maybe I also didn’t communicate these things to you in the manner you needed to understand them. Point taken, I could have done better.
I take the opportunity to – respectfully – offer my two cents (#SorryNotSorry).
I recognize that every interaction I have with you is an opportunity to get us on the same page. To build the bridge of understanding. To make you see that I’m a human and humans run this company, not robots who want to make your life miserable. To educate you about my business, because at the end of the day, it’s your choice to continue this relationship. So I will explain to you that the bottle of wine is more expensive this year because the price of grapes has increased. That I no longer make that Syrah you love because not everyone loved it, and that I’m happy to recommend some excellent Australian Shiraz instead (and yes, it’s the same grape and it’s less expensive – you’re winning!). That dogs and picnics are not conducive to our wine tasting experience – the one we created and the one you showed interest in experiencing… and that wine tasting is an adult activity so your screaming toddler is best left with the babysitter.
I ask you to tell me how I can make this right for you.
This is the clincher – I am not about to guess what will satisfy you. I probably couldn’t understand why you were complaining in the first place. So let’s skip me pretending to be apologetic for something I didn’t do, and the part where I offer you free crap simply to pacify you. I will give you the chance to help us move past this on a positive note; this is where I ask you how I can make this right for you, and you tell me. I know sometimes you don’t want anything but to be heard. I hear you, and I appreciate that you cared enough to tell me. Thank you.
#TakeAction – I may have written this with a degree of sarcasm, but the principles in putting the customer first and resolving an issue still apply. Keep these steps in mind the next time you are dealing with an unruly tasting room guest, and angry email from a wine club member, or a nasty Yelp review. Or just tell them #SorryNotSorry and fire them as a customer. ;)