On any given day, under the right circumstances, every single one of us could be horribly wrong about a multitude of things. Why should it be true – given this fact – that the customer is always right? We all know that the age-old cliché isn’t actually true, of course. It is meant to be a reminder that, while customers can be difficult, having a successful business is impossible without them, so efforts should be made to give customers what they want.

But when company policy stresses the customer’s “right to be wrong” to the detriment of its employees’ quality of life, it can become a price that is too high to pay. And in today’s competitive market, it could be a recipe for losing your best employees to other opportunities. So, what is a company to do? How do you strike a balance between offering top-notch customer service while defending your staff from abusive customer behavior?

There are many things you can do, but the first key is this: whatever solution you choose must be carefully crafted and implemented with clear intentions. Company policy should be well known by all employees who engage with customers, and it should be consistent so that both customers and employees know what to expect.

Don’t make rules that you can’t enforce.

It’s impossible to please every customer every time. And while it’s easy to say they are always right, there will always be cases where a choice must be made between a customer and an employee. The key to a good customer service policy is having guidelines you can enforce consistently, ones that aim to minimize customer/employee conflict.

Rather than giving your customer service employees unrealistic rules their managers will consistently override, set the policy that you intend to stand behind. If you will only give refunds under certain conditions, the exceptions should be clearly outlined and consistently supported. By undercutting employees with management overrides, you put them in the awkward position of being the bad guys. If there is heat to be taken, let it be by management, rather than the cashier or salesperson that customer will deal with day after day.

Firing problem customers can be the best choice.

There comes a point at which a problem client is no longer profitable. There are obvious limits, such as sexual harassment, physical threats, and other behavior that crosses the legal line. Most companies will gladly insist that a customer who breaks the law in his or her dealings with employees is not welcome back. But how do you determine when to let a customer go if that line is never crossed?

The law of diminishing returns comes into play here. At some point, the effort, time, and stress of dealing with a problem customer outweigh the value of the business they conduct. It can also affect the performance of employees who have to engage with stressful customers over and over again.

You can’t run a business without quality employees any more than you can without customers. If both are treated fairly and company policy is clear regarding their interactions, you can have happy customers and happy employees. Decide where the line is, and back up your employees when customers cross it.

Recognize the value of good customer service.

Not all difficult customer encounters are due to problem customers. Sometimes people may be legitimately upset, even when your people have done their jobs. This doesn’t make dealing with those situations any less stressful. In addition to being willing to back up your employees against bullying customers, take the time to acknowledge a job well done.

Physical rewards are great. Everyone loves cash bonuses, or extra time off, but verbal recognition can often go further toward ensuring that high-quality customer service continues. A lack of recognition, or even the assumption that difficult customers are to be expected, can lead to a loss of morale and a decrease in personal attention to difficult customers in the future.

It is important to strike a balance between serving customers – even when it’s hard – and protecting your employees, so you can develop a strong customer service policy that works for both.

Adina Miron

3 Comments

  • Avatar Mia says:

    HR is always fighting to hire great employees, which is hard in a competitive market. To let a customer disturb your employee’s work life just to keep that customer with the company is a good way to lose a great workforce. 

  • Avatar Hailey K. says:

    Every department should have procedures on how to handle customers, including the complaints that might come from them. But when the customer goes from complaining to harassing in any form, the employees should not be forced to deal with it. Fire the customer if your business can afford the loss, or assign a manager to deal with the client. 

  • Avatar Nevaeh A. says:

    The biggest thing that people get wrong is “The Customer Is Always Right.” That comment was never supposed to be taken literally, but was meant as an attitude you should have with the customer. You TREAT them as if they are right, even when they’re wrong, because that’s how you maintain control over the call or sale. Policies are needed, but managers should know how to break them when a problem customer becomes too much of a problem. 

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