"The customer is always right" (article)

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In this article, Derek Stockley discusses the phrase: "the customer is always right", a starting point in customer service training.

I had an interesting exchange recently.

To accompany a bistro meal, I went to a bar to order a lemon squash and a glass of wine.

On the wine list displayed, I spotted the house wine which I read as De Bortoli Chardonnay - $3.50.

So that is what I ordered (or so I thought).

The bar attendant, went to the refrigerator, took out a bottle and poured a glass. With the lemon squash, it came to $8.70. This was more than I expected.

When I queried the amount, she said something to the effect: "You asked for De Bortoli Windy Peak Chardonnay didn’t you?" I replied that I had asked for the $3.50 one listed on the wine list.

She was most indignant. In a terse manner, she said something to the effect that the one she had poured was the more expensive and better one. She put it aside and poured the other one, which was "on tap".

I believe this is an example of a poor attitude to customer service.

There may have been a miss-communication. Although I looked at the wine list as I made the order, I did not specifically state it was the $3.50 house special. I used the Debortli brand name instead, which was shown on the wine list.

In customer service training programs, I will often discuss the notion that the customer is always right - but there are many variations.

In this wine example, the customer was right!

I had looked at the wine list and chosen what I wanted: the $3.50 house wine.

Knowing there were a variety of De Bortoli chardonnays on offer, it was up to the bar attendant to clarify my request.

If there was a misunderstanding, it should have been resolved gracefully with an apology or some other action (the glass of Windy Peak would have been nice).

The customer should not be made to feel wrong under any circumstances. Language at all times should be pleasant and courteous.

Even if the customer is wrong, there are methods that can be used that bring them round gently.

If, as a customer, you have a particular belief or feelings about something, the customer service person dealing with you has to acknowledge and deal with those feelings as well as the situation.

Courtesy is essential to good customer service.

Excellent customer service staff respond to the situation. Dealing with misconception successfully, like any customer service situation or problem, is what makes customer service such an enjoyable and interesting field to work in.


As a courtesy, I emailed an advanced copy of this newsletter (minus this postscript) to the hotel involved. It was sent three weeks ago to the general "info" email address, addressed to the "manager". I was surprised that I did not receive any acknowledgement or response.

I rang the hotel today and spoke to the manager. He did explain that there had been some management changes. He was most concerned about the content of the newsletter item. He apologised for the service and stated it should not have happened. As I was not able to name the staff member involved, he was not in the position to talk directly to them about the incident. He explained that the hotel ranked quite highly in industry award programs. I have arranged to put his hotel on the mailing list for this newsletter.

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