#05: We Have to Stop Saying “The Customer is Always Right”

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Welcome to the People-First Culture Podcast with me, Michel Falcon, where I share lessons I’ve learned and those of others on how to build a more purposeful business and career.

Hey everyone. It is Michel Falcon again. Welcome to the People-First Culture Podcast. This is episode number five. If you are new to the podcast, there are other episodes before this one that you might find valuable. Check them out. The one that I had the most fun recording as of right now is episode number two, with Balbina Knight where she shares and unpacks all the stories and how she’s been able to build her career going from hospitality to performance marketing. One of the better career stories I’ve ever heard in my life. And it’s individuals like Balbina and perhaps yourself, whose career should be popularized, we should celebrate these individuals and put them on a pedestal so that other people can learn from them. I believe people like Balbina should be celebrated more than the entrepreneur who raises capital. Not a day goes by where you don’t read of an entrepreneur raising money for their company, and they get a lot of press coverage.

But what about the employees who are building fantastic careers that could motivate other individuals to learn from them, to build a great career so that they can serve themselves and their families and just be successful. This episode is number five and it’s about how I don’t believe that the customer is always right. And we’ll get to that in just one moment. If you haven’t subscribed to the podcast yet, I release one solo episode or one interview style episode per week, and it circles around the theme of the people first culture message. The people first culture essentially encompasses three things. It’s take care of your employees, pay them well, help them build their careers. The outcome from that is our customers that are going to want to come and do business with you and see the show or buy your product again. And then the last part to that is building a genuine culture where this all matters and driving profits.

So that’s the capitalist side of all of this, but you’ll notice that we lead with employees first and putting them at the core of our company. That’s what the podcast is about. I only share lessons that I’ve learned firsthand with my own experience or I’m interviewing somebody who has this experience. So there’s no fluff to this. There’s no theories, just tangible stuff that you can use. I do not believe the customer is always right. That is something that I have said before and believed at the time much earlier in my career, but now my opinion has changed on this. And it really is for two reasons only. But aside from that, more often than not, the customer has opinions and feedback that we can listen to and help shape our business. But there are other times where that is not the case. So language matters. The language that you use within your company matters because it shapes the behaviors of the individuals within the culture of the company.

That’s why I like to ensure that I’m only using language that actually speaks the truth within our companies. And I do not believe the customer is always right. And these are the two key reasons. Customers can lie, cheat, and steal from you. And that is not fair to your company, full stop, plain and simple. Now I do not operate my businesses for the one percent of people that are going to cheat, steal, or lie to me because if you’re going to do that, then you might as well do nothing at all. You have to be building for the people, the far, far, majority of your customers who do not do this.

So let me give you an example. When I opened Brasa Peruvian Kitchen, a fast casual restaurant serving salads and green based bowls with real Peruvian flavors, our packaging, the bowl that you received your salad or bowl in, the lid to this bowl will be transparent so you can see all the colors and such. But it’s also going to have a round circular sticker. Picture the size of a hockey puck. And on this sticker, it is going to say something with very strong language. We are desperate for your feedback, and there’s going to be a QR code on this sticker. And our customers are going to be able to scan the QR code and give us feedback.

Now, there is going to be a bit of software to do this, but we will know when you are not a satisfied customer. And if you are not a satisfied customer, we’re going to give you a few options. The traditional reimbursement with no questions asked. We do not believe that you should pay for something you did not enjoy. Because as consumers, I do not like paying for things that I did not enjoy or did not meet my expectations as advertised.

So if I don’t want to pay for it as a consumer, why should I make my customers pay for it as an operator? You shouldn’t. Another option will be, let us give you a gift certificate. Give us another chance. Come back again. We believe we’re going to do better this time. The third option is one that I’m withholding sharing from anyone until it launches, but it’s unique in itself, but it requires a reimbursement of some sort. But it’s just very unique.

There are people because there’s no questions asked to your reimbursements, there will be people that gained the system. I understand this, but I won’t tolerate it. Maybe once or twice I’ll tolerate it, but we will have a way of understanding which email addresses or telephone numbers consistently come up on our list of people that are wanting reimbursements. If your number comes up or your contact information is flagged three times, well, that’s where we’re likely going to terminate the relationship, or at least pardon me, the terminating of the relationship won’t happen first. We will communicate with you and quite simply ask, what’s going on? You order from us often, but you also seem to ask for reimbursements every time. We’ll want to understand what’s going on.

And I’ll be honest, I’ll be a little cynical going into those communications with the customer, because it just doesn’t make sense to me, but maybe there’s a reason. If there’s no good reason and I have facts that we are being cheated, steal from, or lied to, then that’s when I’ll terminate the relationship with the customer, because that’s not fair to our business. Right. We work really hard to put together a great product and a great brand. Why should we allow somebody to steal from us? We wouldn’t allow somebody to walk into our home and steal the bouquet of flowers from our kitchen table and just walk out. So why would we allow for this in our business? That’s the first reason.

The second reason is something that I’m seeing a lot of right now, and a lot is subjective, but it has to do with retail locations and individuals wearing masks or not wearing masks and not listening to employees. Now this isn’t a debate about whether you should wear a mask or not, but if the company has imposed a policy of yes, we would like our customers to wear masks, oblige, I believe. But what I’m seeing in all parts of the world is people not obliging and verbally, and even physically abusing employees. I’m not going to stand for that. I would fire that customer if there’s evidence of this happening.

Now, why? Well, it’s just the right thing to do. I do not believe the customer is right in this case, of course not. But think of how much effort you put into building your team, training them, motivating them. It’s a lot of heavy lifting. And when a customer does something to disrupt that team member, disrupt your business, are they really worth it? I would argue that it is more difficult and costly to replace a dedicated employee who left because you didn’t defend them against the customer than it is to replace a customer. You can buy Facebook or Instagram ads for that and acquire that customer again. But I believe it is a lot harder and more costly to replace an employee. So those are the two reasons why I would not advocate that the customer’s always right, because language matters. If you’re going to say something literally mean it, because if you do literally mean the customer is always right, well then you will not defend your employees when they’re belittled, you will not defend your business when your customers cheat, steal, or lie from you.

That’s episode five. Thank you so much for listening to me. If you liked this podcast, if you enjoyed it, please hit the subscribe button wherever you listen to your podcasts so that you can be alerted when I release the next episode. Visit michelfalcon.com. There you are going to be able to subscribe to my email list with 20,000 other professionals who want to learn more about customers, employees, culture, and building a great career. Thank you so much for lending me some of your time. I am Michel Falcon everywhere, online. If you want to connect with me on any social media networks. Thank you so much. And we will be with you again for another episode. If you made it this far, thank you. Please consider leaving a rating and review for my podcast.





Michel travels the world speaking at annual conferences and company events. His speaking topics are focused on customer experience, employee engagement and company culture. To have him speak at your event, contact him directly.