Is The Customer Still Always Right?

(This post was originally published on LinkedIn. To view the original, click here)

I will get right to the point – NO!

Now I guess you would like to know why, so keep reading and please disagree with me too. I love to hear other points of view on the subject.

Why am I fueled to write about this subject?

Yesterday, I was reading Arlene Dickinson’s tweeter posts (@ArleneDickinson) and came across this.

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Are customers getting increasingly frustrated and angry?

Are the customer service staff not resilient enough or have the skills to handle the frustrated customer?

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I do suspect that many front-line customer service members have similar experiences, and if I wrong, I would love to hear from you. Just comment at the end of the post.

We are talking a handful, but regardless of the amount in each day that they can’t reel in, the emotional effect takes its toll. Couple that with management taking the side of the customer. What that leaves you with is an unsupported, demoralized employee. Forget about saying Team Member!

I am generalizing when I say some of you might be thinking that it comes with the territory, and anyone that is entering that field should be aware of it. The same thing could be said when I became a paramedic and became affected by the trauma and feeling helpless at times. Surely you knew what you were getting into when you signed up?

Okay, I agreed, there has to be an expectation that you are going to get one or two, not so pleasant customers. What I don’t think was expected was the toll it would take experiencing it over and over and over each day.

There are signs at most medical establishments that read very similar to this one here.

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There are similar signs in schools (anti-bullying) and many arenas to control the temperament of enthusiastic parents. Even restaurants have signs warning patrons that the management has the right to refuse service if you are deemed unruly.

So why are there none in retail stores?

Everyone and I mean everyone is entitled to have a respectful workplace. No one should leave work dreading coming back, nor going at a 150% stress level or crying due to being scolded by a choleric customer. Sure there could be other reasons for the above results, like interactions with the bosses, but I am only focusing on customer interactions.

Anyone in customer service remembers, “The customer is always right” phrase that has been around since 1909. Harry Gordon Selfridge introduced it to convince customers that they come first and to convince the staff to continue to give excellent customer service as a marketing tool, in spite of angry verbal diarrhea that may be spewing towards the staff member.

I am respectfully suggesting that employers need to realize the shortcomings in training (if any) that staff gets before being released to the hounds. Most of the training is on how to do the actual physical aspects of the work, not the softer skills of handling fuming, fit to be tied or blue in the face customers who can’t find that one item in spite of what the website says that they stock. Forget about dealing with any frustrated, border on being a furious and angry customer that complains about not being able to locate the toilet paper, even though they have been coming to the store every week for years, and the renovations took place over a year ago. How dare blankety-blank do such a terrible thing to its customers.

The front-line staff has become the punching bag of perturbed, ranting customers who should be taking their inflamed arguments up the chain or write the corporate headquarters or maybe “just chill and not sweat the small stuff.”

Yes, there is always the next best thing, and that is to get your manager involved and let them deal with the customer. Front-line managers are not necessarily better skilled in these situations, and the best default is to side with the customer and end the case as quickly as possible. That has a price too, as stated earlier with an unsupported, demoralized employee.

An excellent place to start would be with Conflict Training in conjunction with Resilience Training and a Communications Workshop. Connecting with anyone first begins with understanding yourself than others and then adapting to suit the situation. These skills are not taught generally in schools or training programs. It is learned “on the streets,” trial and error, or not learned at all because the employee quits.

To remain a functioning paramedic on the streets, I had to learn how to prepare myself for the day. While I couldn’t predict all the worse case situations, there were several technics to get myself in the right frame of mind. In the retail setting, it won’t stop customers from being ticked off, but it could prevent you from getting an emotional response to the encounter.

I have always believed that the way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers and that people flourish when they are praised.
Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to.

Richard Branson

Bosses need to start to side with their front-line more often. Big box stores or those with multiple levels of management, can’t have the front-line taking the flack for ill-thought-out policies or inventory control procedures that can’t seem to keep shelves stocked. Thousands of people walk through the doors of your retail outlets each day, and when a handful become unreasonable or too demanding, you have a choice. The choice between supporting your employee, who comes to work every day (for not a whole lot of money) or some irate such-and-such who demands that you give them the patio set for free because it was put beside the “buy one get one free” sign at battery display, the side you pick should be obvious.

Stop treating front-line staff like serfs. Become leaders of people, not managers of things. Supporting the team builds trust and loyalty.

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Chairman and CEO Hal Rosenbluth at New Ocean Health Solutions wrote Put The Customer Second – Put your people first and watch ’em kick butt.In the book, he argued, much like Branson, that when you put your employees first, they become happy, and when they are happy, they will provide better service. There are several other offshoot benefits from being happy (or at least content) is that staff are motivated, have more energy, and feel valued. That is the key for them to hang around longer even if working conditions are not optimal.

I have witnessed this first hand in a sawmill operation (known for tough thinking minds leaning towards profits) that put their employees at the top of their Mission Statement over being the best for their customers. That company in a short period became, not only the safest sawmill in North America, it also was very profitable.

Just as a sidebar, contrary to popular belief, staff DON’T leave organizations because of their bosses. Yes, a bad boss does contribute to the situation and probably speeds up the decision-making process. If the conditions are adverse and the boss is bad, well, you get the picture. (Good little article was written with research here.)

For shoppers.

It’s not all on the employers or employees. Shoppers, you too have a responsibility.

Be a mindful shopper! Mmmmm mmmm

Aside from not leaving your shopping cart in the middle of an aisle, left, right, not the center, please, remember the person you are about to dump on and contrary to your current beliefs, is a human just like you. They have problems, just like you. They have financial problems, just like you. They actually want to do the right thing and actually want to have a good day at work.

Here are a few items that you can take note of too.

1.      Even though you might be running on auto-pilot, you still have control over your reactions and emotions when things don’t go as expected. Yes, looking forward to the super sale item and finding it gone because they underestimated the popularity of the item can be very disappointing. However, resurrecting your two-year-old self to life to deal with the situation is really unwarranted.

2.      Yes, it is a big box store and does have four walls that restrict the amount and what items can be inventoried and stocked on shelves. Empty shelves are not the total problem of the staff; it’s a system problem that requires a systems thinking approach. Asking a clerk to check the inventory can be helpful, if the item can be retrieved quickly from the storeroom or if it might be out on the floor in another area.

3.      Seeing a clerk stocking shelves or in a particular department, does not mean they know everything about every product that they sell. In fact, you probably know more than they do if you did your homework and googled, “best (fill in the blank) before you went looking for that product. While you’re at it, check the reviews on it and if it’s actually stocked at your local outlet.

4.      They are moving into what is referred to as the golden months (Oct to Dec) for retail stores. Everyone will be trying their best to keep inventory moving. For some, this is the make or break period. When things go wrong, it was not in the plan. To give the companies credit, they are always looking for efficiencies and sometimes it is trial and error on some of the changes.

5.      Being Kind should be your default. When you are walking through your house, and you come across a chair that is in your way, you don’t pick it up and throw it across the room (okay, maybe you did that once). No, you just move it aside and carry on. Accept the facts, step aside, and carry on with your shopping.

6.      Be the ZEN Master Shopper!

Is the customer always right?

No. The customer is “sometimes” right, and reasonable solutions to rectify the situation should be sought.

Look for the win-win-win. A win for the customer, a win for the store, and a win for the employee.

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Want to express your anger better? Check this link 75 Synonyms for “Angry”

Interested in a workshop to help you understand yourself and others?

This January 2020, I am putting a live – online workshop for a limited number of curious individuals that want to understand themselves and springboard their dreams into actionable tasks so that 2020 is not a repeat of 2019.

Check it out here: The Foundation for Self-Discovery

RICK RUPPENTHAL is a professional Personal and Leadership Transformational Coach and a Certified Change Practitioner. As a retired paramedic of 30 years, Rick has held positions in leadership, education, as a coach and a mentor. Through those experiences, understanding, and adaptability, Rick has dedicated his life to a continual journey of self-discovery, adventure, and guiding others on their own journey of being their best self.

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