Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The Five Words That Are Destroying Civilization

...are, "The customer is always right."

I have to be honest; I have never seen these words deployed in a situation where the customer is actually right. I've worked my share of retail jobs over the years, I've done a few stints in the restaurant business and I've certainly been a customer enough times to be present during a situation where someone invokes this particular piece of "wisdom". And without exception, it is used by a deplorable human being in order to bully people who are required by the responsibilities of their position to treat them politely into giving them something they don't deserve.

And it seems like my experiences are representative. There's an ongoing series, "Behind Closed Ovens", on the Gawker network that serves as a clearinghouse for stories about the restaurant industry, and they are filled with people who demand food not on the menu, complain that the well-done steak they ordered isn't sufficiently tender, tip like they've got a lock on their wallet, and generally carry themselves like maladjusted toddlers in public. And when there is the slightest resistance to their bad behavior? "Haven't you ever heard that the customer is always right?"

Perhaps at some point, in theory, this was a good idea. Maybe in some distant era, customers were routinely subjected to horrific abuse at the hands of cruel business owners, bilked and neglected and generally mistreated, until finally that legendary customer of yore insisted that they were, in fact, right! But whatever the origins of this practice, it's become a tool used by jackasses to bully people. They firmly believe that they can demand discounts, comped items, returns on goods not actually sold at the store they're going to, and treatment that goes beyond polite and even past obsequious well into dehumanizing grovelling with the threat of a bad Yelp review, and the way that they're treated on a daily basis proves them one hundred percent correct.

I think this is more than just a problem for the unfortunate individuals who have to deal with them on a daily basis; I think it actually does bad things for our society as a whole. I don't believe that you can teach people that at times, you can treat people like dirt and bully them into submission with impunity without that lesson rubbing off in other areas of behavior. The person who calls the waiter "retarded" for not leaving the pitcher of water at their table--do you really imagine that they're kind and generous in all other areas of their lives?

Frankly, I think there needs to be something of a line in the sand; yes, the customer deserves respect and consideration, but they are not "always right". Nobody is. No business can always satisfy every customer, because some customers have unreasonable expectations. And it's not rude or inconsiderate to let them know that. And the people who work at a business, whether a retail store or a restaurant or an office, are people first and foremost and deserve to be treated with the respect and dignity due to human beings. If a customer believes otherwise, then they are most definitely not "right". And if a manager or an owner believes that a good Yelp review is worth more than the dignity of their employees, then they don't deserve to have a business.

So if you find yourself prepared to use the phrase, "the customer is always right", take a step back and think about how you'd feel if you were on the other side of events. You may be surprised at what you find.


Cousin Angelika said...

One retail store I worked at initially had the attitude of "we will support our staff in any altercation". By the time I left, four months later, this had done a complete 180 and it was now "the customer is always right, and the more fuss they make, the more right they are".

Anonymous said...

A far greater tragedy:

That saying has infiltrated modern colleges and universities and modern libraries as part of the "clientele" model.

I have had more than one parent say to me, "The customer is always right, and I pay for my son's college classes, so as the customer I am telling you that my son deserves an 'A' not a 'C' for the paper he turned in!" -- and the Dean will support the parent rather than the teacher.

We are creating a world in which a student can say that 2 + 2 = 5 and earn an 'A' for doing so because "the customer is always right!" We already have parents successfully creating a world in which a student can claim there is no such thing as evolution and still pass the biology exam because "the customer is always right!"