The Customer is NOT Always Right

You’ve been on the phone for two hours, but Carol won’t stop yelling. She wanted a princess costume, and you sold her a princess costume; now it’s covered in red wine and regret.

“It’s Christmas Eve!” she screams. “This was a gift for my daughter!”

“I’m so sorry,” you reply, “But I can’t send you a new one until Thursday night.”

“You don’t care about your customers!” she yells, and you’re ready to call it quits. You’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and she’s killing the holiday spirit.

Maybe you should give her a refund. After all, “the customer is always right”…right?


As an entrepreneur, I know how difficult it can be to work with angry customers. I work hard to make sure that every client has a positive experience, and I want to be treated with the same level of respect. I shouldn’t have to compromise my policies or my values to deal with childish behavior, and you shouldn’t either.

Your customers can be right, but they can also be wrong. Dead wrong. Tie-your-hands-to-a-steering-wheel-and-drive-yourself-off-the-edge-of-a-cliff wrong. And when you give in to their abuse, you are setting a standard for all of the customers that you will work with in the future. “The customer is always right” mentality will destroy your business, one toxic relationship at a time.

No, The Customer Is NOT Always Right

When tycoons like Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker, and Marshall Field turned “the customer is always right” into a business mantra, it had a different meaning than it does today. These men were successful retailers, with large companies that had the power and influence to take advantage of consumers. They wanted their customers to know that they would be treated fairly, instead of taking their money and ignoring their complaints.

But after a century of hard work and social change, this phrase has taken on a life of its own;“the customer is always right” has turned into “the customer is more important than you”.

This idea can be disastrous for small business owners, who don’t have the time, money, and legal resources that large corporations do. Our customers buy products from Fortune 500 companies and solopreneurs, and they expect the same responsiveness and willingness to bend the rules from both parties.

Their misconceptions can lead to situations like this:

Suzy wants a full refund, even though her wedding dress was custom made and is non-refundable. She’s threatening you with a lawsuit unless you give in to her demands.

Matt is inappropriate when he emails you about his order, and he leaves offensive comments on all of your social media accounts when you refuse to give him your personal phone number.

Dana sends a series of angry text messages because she didn’t get her order on time. When you confirm the details of her order, she realizes that she used the wrong address; she still blames you for the mistake.

If these conflicts happened in a different environment, like a jungle gym or a college classroom, we would call it bullying. But when our lives (and our livelihoods) are on the line, we call it a customer service issue.

You shouldn’t become a victim of your own business. It’s time for a new phrase, a term that allows buyers and sellers to interact with each other on equal footing.

Yes, The Customer Always Matters

“The customer is always right” came on the scene in 1905, when robber barons were taking advantage of their employees, lax regulations, and impoverished customers. But today, consumers have government agencies, lobbying groups, and legislation that can protect them from corrupt business practices.

Small business owners, on the other hand, have to fend for themselves. An angry customer with an axe to grind can destroy your business with a single complaint, review, or third-party lawsuit, because you don’t have the resources that a Fortune 500 company does.

That doesn’t mean that you should be afraid of customer feedback: positive reviews can lead to new business opportunities, and constructive criticism will help you improve. It can be good or bad, positive or negative, uplifting or degrading, but it is always important….and your customers are, too, because you wouldn’t business without them!

So you should value your clients.

You should respect them.

You should be trustworthy, and you should be honest when they want you to bend the rules.

When you stick to your return policy, your customers will know that you mean business. When you say no to an unreasonable request, your customers will realize that you have integrity. And when they complain, leave negative reviews, or threaten you with a lawsuit, you’ll be able to rely on the policies and contracts that you put in place to protect yourself.

In business (and in life) you have the power to choose how you will respond to negativity. So don’t worry about Carol; she may be rude, arrogant, and tactless, but you’re just as important as she is. You still matter. You both do.

If this was helpful, you’ll definitely want to check out these 7 steps to dealing with difficult clients.

Ready to create the ultimate experience for your clients? Head over to the Contract Shop and grab the Create an Ideal Customer Experience Workbook to get started.

And make sure you have your refund and other policies clear on your website, online course, etc. with T&C!

The Customer is NOT Always Right