The customer isn’t always right

The original blog site is being migrated. Reposts of some of my favorites will be posted on the blog page with some updates and edits for clarity. This article originally posted 7/13/17

While perusing some news stories recently, an article came up about a young man who was employed by the Great American Cookie Company. I’m paraphrasing here, but I’ll go over the details as I see them:

The story goes that the employee used his own money to pay for a cookie for a police officer who visited the franchise with the intent buy his own cookie. The officer was grateful for the action and left. A second customer came up and asked if he could get a free cookie as well, and became irate when he was denied. The employee explained that he purchased the cookie for the officer as he had a badge, and that this customer did not. Both this customer and his wife then verbally assaulted and threatened the store employee calling him multiple names stating they (the customers) would get him fired. When the unruly customers contacted the company, the employee was suspended. Now, after backlash from the internet, the company has rescinded the decision. Further reading shows that the employee in this case has a positive view of police, and is a good employee. It is even noted that he received a raise for his good work just before this incident.

Before I get into my analysis of this, I want to point out one important item:

The customer is not always right.

This might come as a shock to consumers who have not had the luxury of being employed in a  service industry (but let’s face it, all jobs are to be of service). Harry Gordon Selfridge is one of the men attributed to coining the phrase “the customer is always right.”

 [Image credit: Google Wikipedia synopsis]

What is failed to be mentioned by those who tout this phrase, is the later writings in 1914 by Frank Farrington which show the inevitable losses if the customer’s concerns are taken at face value. So after a 5 year testing of this theory that the customer is always right, two articles were written to state otherwise due to fallacious claims and outright abuse to the system.

I make this claim and post this information as a foundation for my analysis of the Cookie Company situation listed above along with other similar fiascos for other businesses that have had the most rude and unruly make unfounded claims and threats for what, 15 minutes of fame? Is this a power trip? Or is it that the customer is always right?

Social Media and the advent of the social marketing platforms has allowed for this type of “Let me speak to the manager” customer to abuse their position towards the company in an attempt to extort their preferred or wanted solution rather than the right solution for a situation. Fortunately, the employee at the Cookie company had social media on his side to thwart the efforts of those awful people, but this is not always the case.

For a company to knee-jerk the moment a customer complains and try to make things “right” with unfounded information from a social media platform shows exactly how in tune with the customer base the company really is. And it is no secret, they aren’t. What the company in question fails to understand is that:

Not every customer is important.

Having a tactful response with factual information is enough to give any company an edge on limiting impact and stopping this nonsense before it comes to a head. Many companies are taking to yelp and other platforms to root out incorrect and unfounded negative reviews with video tape, server testimony, and first hand experience. If the company continues to immediately bend over backwards for the customer, they are enabling bad behavior instead, and catering to the entitled.

Another item for review would be context. Many videos online show poor Uber experiences and only show during or just before the recorded “incident”. What you fail to see is the actual issue at hand, the customer behaving with an entitled attitude, and the driver unleashing pent up fury from the entire course of the ride. This video of a supposed “poor experience” goes viral and damages the image of the company and the driver, but no one asks for context. This is another item created by the technological advances I like to call the “pics or it didn’t happen” effect. The only companies who have come back from these viral videos have a tactful and ready response, not some form letter of apology for the videotaped outburst.

In the case of the main example from the Cookie Company, we see that the context was provided in the article, but did not seem to matter to the company. As a manager of a company, pay attention to your employees and the context of the situation, respond in kind and with facts, and never apologize for doing the right thing. For the consumer, understand that you don’t keep the lights on at every business you visit. Have a more realistic understanding of your place in the service transaction and refuse to accept the failed adage of always being right. We all have something to learn, and opportunities to be wrong can teach us more than we could ever expect.

I’m not doing this to beat up on the customers or the companies, but to point out the fact that misinterpretations of an old phrase has led to an entitled behavior in certain people. And this entitled behavior is enabled by companies failing to hold valuable the most important resource, their employees.

In Service,


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