Is the customer really always right?

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When you work in the food service industry, there are a few things that have become standard over the years – good food brings in customers, nonslip work shoes help reduce work-related injuries and the customer is always right. 

While good food and slip-resistant footwear are still undisputed, many business experts have begun rethinking the old phrase "the customer is always right." Customers are critical to the success of any restaurant business, whether it's a national chain or a small local breakfast joint. But just because customer service is an important skill for employees to have doesn't necessarily mean that going all-out for every customer is the best practice. 

The truth is, in food service, as well as retail and many other service jobs, some customers may just not be right. Whether it's becoming angry with the staff, costing the business more than is warranted or otherwise causing trouble, there are a small few customers who aren't necessarily correct. Here are a few reasons why you may want to rethink your "customer is always right" strategy in favor of one that's better for employees, your business and the overwhelming majority of customers. 

It's better for your employees 
In an article for The Huffington Post, Alexander Kjerulf, a business consultant who focuses on employee happiness, explained that the phrase "the employee is always right" is more than 100 years old. It dates back to the famed department store founder Harry Gordon Selfridge, who used the phrase in 1909 for his London department store. While the spirit of guaranteeing customers the best service has stayed true over the past 100 years, a blanket policy can sometimes result in employees being harassed or verbally assaulted. 

A policy that establishes the customer as always being right can lead to employees who feel hurt or offended by what customers say or do, even if the employee is in the right. The Next Web explained that employees need to feel that the company is loyal to them to be loyal back to the company and deliver better customer service overall. Companies that side with customers over employees without looking into the matter on a case-by-case basis risk losing the loyalty of the employee – which traditionally is a more significant investment than the food or product being disputed by the customer. 

Some customers will never be happy 
No matter how logically and helpfully some customers and situations are approached, problems sometimes persist. In these situations, employers may want to stop trying to appease the customer. The number of resources and time spent dealing with a specific customer's complaints may far outweigh that customer's potential value to the business, resulting in the need to cut ties from a financial and business perspective. Small Business Computing explained that sometimes it's just the best option. 

"Virtually every business has one customer that they can't appease," the technology business website wrote. "It could be the customer who writes incessantly on your Facebook timeline or calls your service line each week with a new tale of woe. Undoubtedly, you took the first complaints seriously and tried to smooth over the situation. However, when it becomes apparent that there is no satisfying this person, it is time to stop trying. It's a waste of time for both you and your staff."

Technology may make a more even playing field 
With modern technology, "the customer is always right" may be changing as people leave reviews on Yelp, Google and other social networking sites that criticize restaurants without oversight or defense. However, some businesses, such as Uber, have started to combat this old philosophy by rating customers back. 

Famous business consultant and former waitress Marie Forleo explained on her website that she thinks it's time for customer ratings to play a bigger role in business. 

"As both a consumer and a business owner, I've been on all sides of this conversation – and I've made mistakes all the way around," Forleo wrote on her website. "But what makes me so excited is the possibility that technology may be helping us collectively, ever so subtly, hold ourselves to a higher standard. Especially when things don't go the way we expect."

She explained that customer ratings may help customers behave more thoughtfully when dealing with employees and help businesses.

Customer service and the business can suffer 
In his Huffington Post article criticizing "the customer is always right," Kjerulf explained that one issue is that it gives customers more power than is warranted. This can lead to customers who abuse this guarantee and actually hurt business. When employees deal with rude and unpleasant customers, over time customer service can suffer too. 

When employees are bullied and disrespected by rude customers, Kjerulf argued, they'll be less happy in their job and disheartened. This leads to apathy and poor customer service. Quality customer service is an integral aspect of any service business and when it lacks, it can directly affect the company's bottom line.

While focusing on customer satisfaction is never a bad idea in food service, thinking that the customer is always right may be more detrimental to your business, employee morale and overall service than using a rational problem-solving method.


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