An article by Bruce Mohl in yesterday’s Sunday Boston Globe called “In Some Cases, The Customer Is Not Right” caught my eye. Here’s how it starts:


“Consumers often criticize companies for poor service, poor workmanship, or just being sleazy. But despite conventional wisdom, the customer isn’t always right. Sometimes the consumer is right, sometimes the company is right, and sometimes the answer falls somewhere in between.”


My take: I agree. Customer interactions aren’t always black-and-white. But now that we’ve dispelled “the customer is always right” adage, firms need a new way to think about how they should treat customers. So here are 5 principles to use in place of “the customer is always right:”

  1. “Right” is in the eyes of the beholder.
    Enforcing a policy that’s in tiny print on the back of a sales slip may be legally correct, but that doesn’t make it “right.”
  2. It costs less to solve a problem than you think.
    Firms build models to figure out how much they’re willing to spend to solve a customer’s problem. But these calculations typically do not factor in the downside associated with bad word of mouth and the upside associated with good word of mouth.
  3. The best resolution is a quick one.
    If you’re going to fix a problem, you’ll get the most goodwill by doing it right away. Customers appreciate the pro-activeness and they don’t have to suffer through a period of anxiety.
  4. Not all customers are equal.
    Don’t use the same rules for treating your most profitable customers that you apply to your less desirable ones.
  5. The customer is more often right than wrong.
    If there’s any doubt; treat them like they’re right.


The bottom line: Right or wrong, you’ve got to love your customers.

This blog post was originally published by Temkin Group prior to its acquisition by Qualtrics in October 2018.