Is the customer always right?

We’ve all heard the old saying that the customer is always right. In the past few years, there’s been some debate on this topic. The new thinking is that the employee is always right.

So which is it? Of course, there are no absolutes, but based on my own experience, I believe giving the customer the benefit of the doubt makes good economic sense.

Many years ago, I got into a “discussion” with a Walmart employee over some $14 wiper blades that had been misracked on a $7 peg. The Walmart rep became genuinely offended when I suggested that, as a matter of good customer service, she should sell me the wiper blades for $7 each. I didn’t set foot in another Walmart for at least 10 years. In other words, Walmart may have saved $14 that day, but it lost literally thousands of dollars in future business.

Last year, I was at a conference in Eugene, Ore. One night, a group of people went out to have a good time. I was denied entrance at one dance club because the doorman said I was too inebriated. The truth is, I wasn’t inebriated at all, and believe this was a matter of age discrimination. (Disclaimer: I’m old.) Anyhow, he summoned a manager who, after some conversation, agreed that I was not inebriated. However, he felt that he had to back his employee’s decision and still wouldn’t let me in. In other words, taking the position of “the employee is always right” cost this club a couple-of-hundred-dollar bar tab.

About a year ago, we bought some living room furniture from Jerome’s, a well-known local furniture chain. It wasn’t our first purchase there. The quality is good and the prices are good, but I didn’t really consider myself a loyal customer.

Recently, we moved our recliner, which Jerome’s had installed (meaning two Jerome’s guys put it there), and discovered it was missing its rubber feet. This resulted in deep gouges in our hardwood floor. This in turn resulted in a $1,600 repair bill.

Visions of small claims court danced in my head as I filled out the comment form on the Jerome’s website. Much to my surprise though, instead of telling me to pound salt, they asked for pictures, which I promptly provided. Then they asked me for the repair invoice, which I also promptly provided. Then they told me they’d gladly cut me a check for $1,600. Wow!

Going forward, I will only buy furniture from Jerome’s, because I’m confident that I’ll be treated fairly. In other words, Jerome’s gained a customer for life.

I know my few thousand dollars are a drop in the bucket for Walmart. And I’m sure that dance club won’t miss my couple hundred dollars. I’m also confident that Jerry Navarra won’t notice the extra money I send his way in the coming years.

On the other hand, I can’t believe that my experiences are isolated. If these organizations continue to treat people in this manner, consumers will react accordingly. That’s a good thing for Jerome’s. Not so much for the other two.

John San Filippo

John San Filippo

John is the co-founder of OmniChannel Communications, Inc., a company that specializes in B2B marketing to community financial institutions. He started out in the savings and loan industry, but wisely ... Web: Details