From the blog, Satisfaction Unlimited:

Frankly, I care less about being right and more about being heard as a customer. There is nothing more frustrating than a customer service rep who placates you by sending you down another phone tree rather than saying no to your request. There are times I’m in the right and times when I’m not. And I’m okay with that. But let’s have a conversation about it so that we can both learn and, together, improve the product or service. That’s how we’ll foster a meaningful relationship.

According to The Phrase Finder, “The customer is always right” originated at Marshall Field’s Department Store in Chicago.  Several other store owners are also credited with enforcing the policy.  The Phrase Finder goes on to assert:

Of course, these entrepreneurs didn’t intend to be taken literally. What they were attempting to do was to make the customer feel special by inculcating into their staff the disposition to behave as if the customer was right, even when they weren’t.

I’m curious.  Does this business concept mean that your employees should feel subservient and lesser than your customers?  Is this the most effective way to treat your staffmembers?

Of course not.  But it does mean that your actions (the way you treat customers) should be an example for your employees.  On the other hand, you can’t possibly accommodate every request or demand.  Because, just like not every funeral professional is fit for your business, not every customer is a good fit for your funeral home.

I used to work for a funeral home owner/manager who desperately tried to hold on to every prospective client.  It didn’t matter if they were looking for a Gipsy funeral or the cheapest cremation in town, he tried to bend his business to fit their needs.

And he ended up frustrated more times than he succeeded.  But even the times when he did earn their business, he struggled to provide for their needs or please them.

Because they WEREN’T HIS CUSTOMERS!  Meaning, he shouldn’t have been trying to earn their business.

Yes, after a lot of hard selling, he’d been able to convince them to use his funeral home, but they had to be cajoled, a bad omen for the difficult moments that often arise during difficult arrangements.  Difficult, as used here, means arrangements that the staff of the particular funeral home isn’t used to handling. 

What my boss failed to realize what that he wasn’t the cheapest funeral home in town and he couldn’t provide $495 cremation and make a profit.  When he was able to get a price-conscious family to use his services, they were often upset about the prices of his urns or the traditional atmosphere.  They were looking for a quick, simple and inexpensive cremation service.  They had no need for his beautifully-appointed viewing room and his spacious chapel.  The marble and cherry urns were lovely, yes, but they were scattering and wanted a simple transport urn.

The two types of funerals he does best are big church funerals (he gets a lot of business from his own Catholic church family) and traditional cremations.  Through careful networking and several exhibits of his sensitivity, he was able to become well-liked and trusted in his local Hindu community.  Now, members of that community seek him out.  They are HIS customers.

Don’t be afraid to tell a customer that you can’t honor their request.  Just make sure you know it before they throw their lot in with yours. 

The customer may always be “right,” in the sense that they deserve to be served in the way they prefer.  But the customer isn’t always “right for your business.”