Has "The Customer Is Always Right" Gone Too Far?


“Is there a manager I could speak to?”

Everyone who has ever worked with the public dreads this question. Usually it’s a difficult customer that you knew was going to be trouble the minute they walked in the door. Having worked in retail for four years, I’ve seen my fair share of unhappy customers.

Throughout history a slogan has developed that may have been a little too vague: “The customer is always right.” This is just asking for an argumentative customer to challenge it. But has this slogan gone too far?

“Absolutely,” says Scott Kulesza, manager of a local hardware store in Gardner, MA. I have spent the last two years working with Mr. Kulesza and would have to say that I agree with him. Reflecting back with him on customers that have come through our doors Mr. Kulesza states: “We’ve had some pretty unruly customers come through here. But because the company is best known for their customer service, you have to put up with it.”

Putting up with it is easier than it sounds. Kayla McMilleon, a customer service representative at Aubuchon explains that there have been times when she’s talked down to customers “only when they’ve talked down to me and proved they didn’t think I knew how to do my job. For a long time I let it go, but it seems like their attitudes are getting worse.”

Once a man came in to return an item that is commonly sold around Gardner. The man didn’t have the package or a receipt and naturally because he is the manager, Mr. Kulesza was asked to handle it. After refusing to take the product back without a receipt, as company policy states, the customer became loud and looked like he was going to get violent. “Those are the moments I don’t feel bad telling them that they’re wrong and to get out of my store.”

“A lot of the time, complaints are because of something as simple as we didn’t offer to help load a bag of sand into a man’s car. Or we did but we accidently ripped the bag getting it into his lifted pick-up truck,” another unnamed sales associate states.

I have dealt with customers that seem to be pleasant when they come in and gradually become bad-tempered the more I’ve tried to help them. They often ask for a man’s opinion and won’t except mine. Most of the men that I work with know that I know how to do my job so they assure the customer that I am correct, which for some reason makes men and women more irritated.

There are some customers that report their experiences to the main office which is located in Westminster, Mass. They’re available through phone, email, and during the weekdays, chat. If a bad experiences is reported, Mr. Kulesza and his team get a warning from the office and whoever the associate was is written up.

Statistically, a typical business hears from only four percent of its unhappy customers. This seems like a small amount for a big corporation; however, being family owned, Aubuchon sees much more feedback.

Some customers have received such great customer service, that they are now regulars at Aubuchon. They joke around with the staff and sometimes even help out other customers when the store is busy. When asked why he would help customers when he isn’t an employee one of the regulars replied “I love this place. I’ve never had any problems and it’s just my way of saying thank you for taking care of me.”

What’s the difference, between the service that the regulars get and the service the unruly customers get? Nothing about the service is different, every customer is greeted with a smile.  It’s the customer’s attitude that’s different. If the customer comes in with the impression that no matter how he treats the employee he will be in the right, they’re going to be unsatisfied.