"Customer Is Always Right" - Who Introduced It?

Working as a salesperson or at the cashier is definitely not easy especially when you find yourself in a situation where one of those "Karen" customers decides to use the word, "customer is always right".
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Hearing this phrase is pretty common and it is not something new but despite the customers being at fault, they will always feel entitled to their rights. In fact, we can almost be certain that this phrase is constantly being used in the wrong way.

But where does this word actually come from and who is the person behind this very popular phrase? The advancement of technology and social media has also made it easy for matters such as this to be popularized.

In a worst-case scenario, the customer might even threaten to give you a bad reputation and ultimately shame you for the rest of your life.

The Success In Business

"Customer is always right" is a term initially used by Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker, and Marshall Field. All these three individuals are successful businessmen and have known from the start that every success in a business depends on the happiness of the customers. 

Harry Gordon Selfridge is the person who founded the Selfridges shopping mall in the UK. John Wanamaker is the first person to open a shopping mall in Philadelphia while Marshal Field owns the Marshal Field and Company shopping mall in Chicago.

All three of them owed their success to the customers that have helped them in their business. Generally, it is unclear who out of the three came up with such a phrase but one thing for sure is that all of them stick to the same philosophy for every success.

Of course, you cannot be right all the time and this also means the customers themselves in certain situations. Instead, the phrase itself is merely a parable stating that every customer is special to them.


Due to that they constantly remind the workers and staff members to always treat the customers as if they are always right when in reality that might not be the case.

The change in this mindset is considered quite drastic in their business where the customers are being treated in a special way than before. The good news is that people start flooding 
their shopping malls from that onwards.

Based on the book published by Sears, Robuck, and Co. in 1905, "Each of their workers was ordered to satisfy the customers' needs regardless of whether they were right or wrong".

The business owner knew the power in their customers as they believed it is better to put trust in their customers and risk being taken for granted than to get a bad reputation for not respecting the customers.

The Treatment Change Towards Customers

"Customer is always right" is one interesting philosophy since the philosophy of "caveat emptor" was more used in businesses at the time. "Caveat emptor" places all the responsibility on the customers. The customers themselves should take note of the quality of the products before purchasing them.

For instance, if there were any issues with the products after buying them, then all the mistakes and faults will be on the customer's shoulders since they failed to check properly the products beforehand. This philosophy also means that the seller does not need to assist the buyers in any way.

This is of course the opposite of what is being meant by "customer is always right" where the seller will need to work hard and give the best possible service to gain the customer's trust.

Differences in Various Culture

This phrase might be the most well-known use to this day. However, it is not the only phrase to picture the importance of customers to business owners. This idea has spread to the whole world in many ways and languages.

"Le client n'a jamais tort" which translates to customers is never wrong and it is a common slogan used by the owner of a Switzerland hotel, César Ritz, the founder of Ritz Carlton hotel. He said in the 1890s: "If a customer complains about his dish or wine, quickly take it from them and replace it, no question asked".

This concept is still being practiced in the Ritz Carlton hotel and it is a huge factor contributing to the success of this brand. Customers know that when they stay in the Ritz Carlton, they will be treated with kindness and hospitality.

At the same time, the company does not waste any time questioning the customers creating a fuss instead they are more towards finding the solution to the problem as quickly as possible.


In Spanish it is known as "El client siempre tiene la raz
ón". In Italian it will be "il client ha semper ragione". Both these phrases mean that customers will always have an excuse. It is up to the workers and customer service agents to find those excuses and ensure that the customers get fair treatment.
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In Germans, it is "der Kunde ist König" meaning that customers are king. Recently, Germany has updated their consumer protection law to give more choices and support to customers. Customers can truly feel like kings when they have a law backing them up and giving them protection.

Perception toward customers definitely changes from time to time. But wherever we are in this world, businesses that require support from customers mean that the business owners will always need to prioritize customers' experience in buying the respective products or the services being provided.

It is definitely true that customers are not always right but when business owners take a different approach to focus more on good customer experience. At the end of the day, it is the customers that bring in the revenues for the companies that they trust and had a good experience with.

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