Miss Manners once wrote that there’s a fundamental conflict in customer service in Western countries. We like the maxim “The Customer is Always Right” (at least when we’re the customer), but our society is built on the idea that all citizens are equal. How can one person always be in the wrong if they’re equal to everyone else?
Like most of us, I’ve been on both sides of the issue (receiving and providing customer service). Probably like most other people, I’ve been the irate customer, and I’ve dealt with irate customers. Of course, I was always in the right (I was justified in being angry, but none of my customers were).
I have never lived or done business under the motto “the customer is always right”. The brother of a friend of mine had a funny saying to unreasonable customers: “this isn’t Burger King: your way all the way!” I don’t think that’s even Burger King’s motto but it made me laugh.
There’s been a backlash in recent years where people have started “firing their clients”, meaning they stop doing business with customers who are more trouble then they’re worth. I’ve definitely done this. The more rational (and business-savvy) approach is to just charge difficult customers more until they leave on their own, or pay you enough to make it worth dealing with them. There’s a dangerous element to this in that if you get too much on your high horse and become a prima donna to do business with, you may drive away customers (and drive yourself out of business).
I found what I’m fairly sure is Violent Acres‘ old blog, and she used to work at Taco Bell (which it’s interesting how she got from there to the independently wealthy woman she claims to be now). She makes the comment in one post that she couldn’t care less when people got angry at her and said they were never going to eat at Taco Bell again (why would she care? She didn’t get paid on a per-customer basis, and if that store went under she’d be able to get a similar job pretty easily).
I definitely think all people providing services at any business deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. That being said, its quite frustrating when you’re the customer and they’re rude to you just because they’re having a bad day (and there’s not much you can do about it).
In some ways, rather than a “customer is always right” environment, I think this is a healthier way to do business (when both sides stand up for themselves and either can refuse to do business with the other). Unreasonable people are rejected, whether they’re the customer or the provider. In most situations (other than fast food), after they’ve lost enough businesses partners, they’ll eventually realize that its worthwhile being civil to people they want to do business with.