What happens if the customer is not right?

I appreciate that way back in 1909 Harry Selfridge came out with the saying, ‘the customer is always right’ which is still recited to this day.

But we all know it’s not true.

With my family working in the hospitality trade (did I mention that my son is the landlord of the famous Emmerdale Woolpack in Esholt?), I come across plenty of instances where the customer is plainly wrong and/or totally unreasonable.

However, arguing with them or ‘putting them right’ can result in it being relayed across social media and on sites like Trip Advisor. Indeed some people use the threat of a bad review as a blackmail tool to try and get what they want.

If those are the sorts of bullying tactics they want to resort to then let them go ahead. They are certainly not the type of people I would want in my establishment.

Indeed, fawning and giving in can cause greater problems than receiving a bad review. Defending a customer that is clearly wrong or rude can seriously undermine and demoralise the team. In addition, the way the customer acts and behaves can disrupt the harmony of the place and upset other customers’ enjoyment.

If you don’t pander to their unreasonable demands you know it won’t be long before the keyboard warriors amongst them will be rushing home to bash out a ‘terrible’ review, with plenty of exaggerations along the way.

There is no doubt that TripAdvisor is a powerful marketing tool but don’t underestimate the intelligence of the consumer. They can see if someone is being vindictive or unreasonable. They can also determine if the critique is genuine.

Remember that social media is a two way process. If someone posts a review, good or bad, you must respond.

If the customer has taken the time to write a glowing review, then you should make the time to thank them. After all they are recommending your business.

Likewise, if it is a bad review, provide the readers with your side of the story.

If it is a genuine complaint, suggest it would have been better to bring up the issue at the time so it could have been rectified, prior to it being broadcast. Apologise to them and try and identify what went wrong on the occasion of their visit. Then advise them how you have taken steps to ensure the problem has been solved or the way you are going to rectify it.

If it is a vindictive review, then remember you have the last say.

You have an opportunity to outline their unreasonable behaviour and perhaps the appalling way they treated your team. So respond in a considered way, be honest about the situation, remain gracious and certainly don’t be arrogant. The response you give can turn the situation around completely and show that you did your best, at the time, to handle the situation. If there is an opportunity inject a bit of humour to show that you don’t take yourself too seriously, then this can also endear people to you. In the end it could expose their unreasonable behaviour and make them look a little foolish, to say the least.

So next time someone tries to brow beat you with ‘the customer is always right’ when they are clearly not, be prepared to put your PR machine in gear and make use of your right to reply!

Written by Peter Downey, 07/04/2017