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Is the Customer Always Right?

By Ray Miller

“The customer’s perception is their reality.” ” Free Customer Focus and Customer Service Article

“Perception is Reality.”

No doubt you have heard this expression. We hear it often. Maybe you have heard someone say, “It’s only his or her perception.” Unfortunately, when put in that context, people often dismiss another’s perception. In reality, a customer’s or anyone’s perception for that matter is their reality at that moment in time. That perception can only be altered when an individual is provided with new reliable information that compels them to change their perception.

Our perceptions can be strongly influenced by what we see.

Have you ever been shopping and noticed a jumbled pile of merchandise; let’s say sweaters on a table. Your initial reaction might be; “What a pile of junk,” even if the sweaters are expensive cashmere or “This store is disorganized” even through this sale table may have been straightened out ten minutes earlier, or “This store doesn’t have enough staff, I’ll never get served.” On the other hand, if you saw a display of neatly folded sweaters, even if they are cheap cotton, isn’t it true that you would in all likelihood initially think the merchandise is of higher quality, or the store is better organized?

A customer’s perception of you or your Company evolves from a variety of sources:

With all this going on in their heads, is it any wonder that customers react negatively when they are told something that is different from what they perceive to be correct?

Here’s a reality check: there is a small percentage of customers who intentionally lie and argue knowing full well they are wrong. But let me be clear, this is a very small number. The fact is that because of the power perceptions have on how we form opinions; most customers truly believe they are right, even though they may actually be misinformed.

Because the customer is the one in charge of whether he or she wants to do business with you, the truth is that their perception is the only one that matters. Right or wrong, it is their perception which will determine their actions.

Unfortunately, most service providers immediately react negatively and tell the customer he or she is wrong or act in a way which makes the customer feel embarrassed or foolish. Human nature being what it is, when customers are treated this way they tend to entrench and insist they are right.

There are lots of proven techniques to effectively deal with customers when you discover that they are misinformed but that is the subject for another article.

The key to understanding the correct answer to the question “Is the customer always right?” is to keep in mind that because there are so many factors which may be contributing to a customer’s point of view, pointing out that the customer is wrong will only serve to do one thing. Make matters worse!

It does not matter who is right and who is wrong!

For some inexplicable reason, many service providers are predisposed to wanting to be right. Being right serves no useful purpose in the context of delivering exceptional service. Simply recognizing that the customer may be misinformed and engaging the customer in a conversation which focuses on finding a solution which will, at the very least, satisfy the customer is the most productive thing you can do. Making customers feel like they are jumping through hoops only serves to irritate them and reduce your chances of ever seeing them again. Even if you fix the problem.

On the other hand, educating your customer as you focus on solving their problem in a helpful, fast and empathetic way will build credibility and trust.

So, is the customer always right? Based on the factors contributing to their perceptions, the answer is yes. Given their understanding of the information they have, they believe they are right, even when you know they are wrong.

Remember: being right and winning an argument may massage your ego but it won’t win customers for life.



Ray Miller is Managing Director of The Training Bank and author of That’s Customer Focus! and The Customer Focus Companion.


The Training Bank is a full service training and development firm which specializes in fully customizable Leadership, Customer Focus, Service Excellence, Management and Supervisory Development training.


Enhance your Customers’ Experience and sharpen your Customer Focus to differentiate your organization and build long-term loyalty and profitability.


If you need help, check out our book, That’s Customer Focus!: The Overworked and Under-appreciated Managers Guide to Creating a Customer-Focused Organization.


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