Why Is the Customer Always Right?

The phrase "the customer is always right" originated in 1909 with customer service pioneer Harry Gordon Selfridge, who believed that excellent customer service required efforts on the part of all service staff to satisfy customers whenever possible. It is a common mantra or philosophical notion, but it can also be detrimental to employee relations and it presupposes that all customers are equally desirable.

When a customer voices a complaint, companies want their employees to make every effort to right the wrong and leave the customer satisfied. This can be accomplished by offering a refund or exchange, by extending a discount on future purchases or by providing an alternative solution that benefits both the business and the customer.

If a company assumes the perspective that the customer is always right, employees are expected to correct mistakes even if the employee or the business did nothing wrong. Experts argue that it is best to approach each interaction with a customer by itself, based on the specifics of the situation. Some customers are unreasonable or irritable and cannot be satisfied, for example, and attempting to satisfy them wastes company resources and frustrates employees.

This is especially true when customers are dishonest or attempt to perpetrate frauds against the business. Employees must protect themselves as well as their employers when evaluating each specific customer complaint.