If you are in the service industry…and if you’re reading this, you most likely are…you will have heard the universal law of customer service, ‘The Customer is Always Right’.
This phrase was made famous by Harry Gordon Selfridge , a successful retailer over 100 years ago, who learnt early in his career that the success of his department store depended on the happiness of his customers.
Swiss hotelier César Ritz, founder of Ritz Carlton hotels said it another way…’The Customer is Never Wrong’. His philosophy was “If a customer complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked.” That attitude still prevails at Ritz Carlton hotels and is a big factor in the brand’s success. The company doesn’t spend time questioning customers’ complaints but instead works to quickly solve problems.
Stew Leonard is another advocate of this belief and takes it a step further. At the door of each of his highly successful chain of supermarkets in USA is a large rock. Engraved into that rock is the following message;
Rule 1: The Customer Is Always Right!
Rule 2: If The Customer Is Ever Wrong, Reread Rule 1.
His staff understand the true meaning of customer service…that they must do everything in their power to keep their customers happy because happy customers not only come back, they bring their friends..
I recently visited my supermarket and it was obvious that they had never heard of this universal law.
While attempting to use the automated checkout, a computer error kept on appearing. Becoming more and more frustrated and just wanting to get in and get out, I called the attendant over to see if she could help with my dilemma. After a bit of eye rolling and sighing on her part, she informed me that I had my bag on the wrong side which was causing the error. Feeling her condescending attitude and noticing that the machines displayed no instruction to that point, I suggested some signage might help others in the same situation. To which she verbally defended, as she pointed out a very small metal thingy on the side I obviously should have seen.
As I walked out of the store towards my car feeling flustered with my encounter, I started thinking about how that attendant didn’t understand that the customer is always right. That led me to considering that she was probably right because I didn’t know how to use their machine. And she couldn’t have fixed the problem because she couldn’t help how the machine was designed. But upon thinking about it even more, I discovered something…the customer is NOT always right…but you need to make them FEEL as if they are.
So how could the situation have been handled differently using this insight, with a better outcome for both the customer and the business?
When you can’t fix something, show empathy. This shows your customer that you’re on their side and that you do actually care.
Here are my 7 tips in dealing with a challenging situation and showing empathy even when you can’t fix it.
- Listen to your customer’s point of view without interruption. If you interrupt you’ll only be fueling the fire.
- Don’t take it personally…it’s not about you, it’s feedback about the situation.
- Understand that people may see things differently to you. Put yourself in their shoes and be open to learning from their point of view rather than defending your own.
- Don’t make assumptions or judgement based on your way of seeing the situation. It may not be the only way.
- When your customer has finished downloading their point of view, thank them for their feedback.
- Express empathy by validating their feelings. You can get some clues on what to say by listening to your customer in step 1. For example, I had explained that I don’t use the automated checkout very often so what may be obvious for people who use them every day was all new to me. Armed with that information, she could have said something like…Thanks so much for your feedback. I know how frustrating it can be when you’re faced with something you’re not used to.
- Lastly, appease your customer by telling them you will pass the feedback to your manager. Your customer will leave more satisfied, feeling like they are dealing with a company that values their opinion.
Finally, not all of your customers are going to be satisfied all the time, but remember…if it wasn’t for customers you would not have a job. And if you can get used to responding to sticky situations with empathy, your job will become so much easier and less stressful.