The Customer is Always Right


The following quote captured my attention this morning. It was in an article in Strategy + Business.

“For me, if a client makes a complaint, I go bonkers—and the client is always right. My people can provide 150 justifications, but they will be overruled by the client’s point of view. This needs to be ingrained in each employee, down to the last person in the organization. When you act on this priority, your clients recognize it—strengthening the trust quotient.”

The quote is by S.N. Subrahmanyan, CEO of L&T, a multinational conglomerate in the engineering, procurement, construction (EPC); high-tech manufacturing; and financial services and technology sectors. A company I know well from my many years in financial services.

When was the last time you heard the ‘Customer is Always Right’? I want to provoke this thinking. With ‘Customer Experience’ being a central theme for many companies, where does the customer being right, fit in? Customer-centric businesses talk about creating ‘the experience’.

About that Customer Experience
  • What makes the ‘experience’ or ‘journey’ a memorable one?
  • What makes it an experience they enjoy?
  • Is it an experience they would like to have again?

For me, I want my request to be met with a smile. After all, I’m the paying customer.  What is so unreasonable about expecting some grace?

Let me tell you about an experience I had that set a new standard.

I purchased a Coach handbag. In less than 3 months of use, one of the corners looked like it had been battered and worn. I’m not hard on my handbags. I returned to the store and showed them the condition of the bag. With no questions asked, the clerk smiled and disappeared into the back. Moments later I had a brand-new bag in my hand.  I was stunned and at the same time, elated.  That was the most unique approach to service I had ever experienced.

What the sales clerk did not know is that I have more than a dozen Coach bags in my closet. I’ve been a loyal customer for two decades. Yet, there was something about her willingness ‘to serve’ that was intent on making it right for me.

On the opposite end of the experience meter is the encounter I had with my bank’s self-service securities trading dept. I had called to provide transfer instructions between two accounts. I was met with “Why don’t you just do it yourself?”  If I had wanted to or could do it myself, I would.

The representative did not take the time for me to finish my sentence – I was cut off partway through. With that, my experience hit the floor. Maybe this person is just having a bad day. What is disturbing is the inconsistency of service I experience in different parts of this bank.

These two examples are extreme opposites – yet they happen every day in all types of businesses.  There cannot be that many definitions of a good customer experience.

Let’s look at that.

By my definition, the store clerk was effective in her job. The objective is to be sure that every customer walks out happy. Simple! Give the customer a reason to come back. It is the outcome they want for every past, present and future customer. This is what will ultimately define the brand.

The bank representative was efficient. The objective is to get results – in this case, get me off the phone as quickly as possible. Every phone call is timed. The higher the number of calls they handle, the more productive they are. That is a measure of efficiency used in call centres. If the customer had a good experience or not, does not seem to matter at that moment. I suppose it’s called ‘Self Service Trading’ for a reason – until you get to the point where you cannot complete a part of the transaction.

Please notice the distinction between these two scenarios.

Effectiveness produces the desired outcomes while Efficiency produces results.

An example:

When I facilitate a strategy meeting for a new program, the result is a prepared plan of action

When that plan of action is executed effectively it produces the outcomes that align with the objectives of the program.

One could easily argue in the two scenarios that the ‘channels’ of service are different. By default, this distinction is enough to create different experiences.

I don’t agree.  

The Coach store is considered a product retailer with its mission statement “To become the company that defines global modern luxury.” The mission statement sets up the expectation that a luxury retailer will value its customers. They stand for something. They have a customer profile in mind, and that customer is important.

The Bank is a service retailer with the mission statement “We are committed to being the institution of choice in the financial sector, providing superior products and services, and being a good corporate citizen to the benefit of our customers, shareholders, and staff.” – How banal!  It’s about the bank. We know nothing of what they stand for.  They have multiple customer profiles across the bank and nothing to unify them.

These two examples are different both in channel and product. What they share is that each is aiming for their customers’ wallets, however small or large they may be.  What can never be excused by customers in any industry is an inconsistent level of ‘grace’ that is equal only to the size of the customer’s wallet.

The reason it cannot be excused is that no one knows how many wallets any one customer may have.

As stated in the opening quote, “strengthening the trust quotient”, I believe, is the only path to access more of the customer’s wallet.  The customer experience must be at the forefront of a company’s performance indicators (outcomes/KPIs) linked to its short- and long-term objectives.

One can accept that the customer may not always be right, but they are always the customer. 

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Connect with me at to find out more about how we have changed the landscape for supporting our clients in specific areas that are central to business concerns this year.

Until next time,

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