5 Times When “The Customer Is Always Right” Is Wrong

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 10 years of experience working in customer-facing roles—from retail and gym membership sales to offering customer support for SaaS companies— it’s that the customer is not ALWAYS right.

Sometimes they’re right. But not always.

There are several reasons why this statement is wrong. But it almost always boils down to the customer not helping us help them. Customers need to take advantage of the help being offered if they hope to successfully make the most of their investment.

Considering that, here are 5 times when “the customer is always right” is wrong.

They expect too much hand-holding

Because they’re paying for a service, customers sometimes expect to be guided every step of the way. Like learning how to ride a bike, the customer should be entitled to your full support and guidance at the beginning when they might be a little wobbly on their own.

But eventually the training wheels come off and you have to let them go. And then maybe come back to teach them cool tricks, like how to pop a wheelie or ride hands-free.

Support and hand-holding are two different things.

We can help the customer get started or give them feedback about how to better use a product or service, but we can’t do it all for them. We might be experts about our own product or service, but we’re not necessarily experts when it comes to the customers’ unique needs.

We have to work together with them on this.

They get upset because they didn’t get their way

In my time working in telecom as a support rep, there have been customers who got mad at me because they felt that they’ve somehow been wronged by the company. Unless the company misrepresented something or the customers suffered because of someone else’s carelessness, this anger is usually misplaced.

If you go on a trip somewhere and you leave your data running for 3 weeks, is it your fault or the company’s that you got billed $800?

There has to be some personal accountability. Again, like learning how to ride a bike and falling off, do you blame the person teaching you or attribute it to the fact that you’re just starting out?

You’re not going to go to a single session with a personal trainer and expect to see 6-pack abs as your next day ROI. The purpose of customer support is to (what else) support the customer as they try to get what they want out of their investment. But we can’t pull results out of our pockets to hand to them.

We can steer the customer in the right direction, but they still need to do the pedaling.

They skip the onboarding process (SUPER IMPORTANT)

Sometimes people like to think that they know it all, customers included. And the truth is that they probably do know a lot. But not everything. So when they sign up for a new platform or buy a product, however much they might know at the start, they still need to be onboarded.

Whatever industry you’re in—whether telecom, fitness or SaaS—you have to stress the importance of customer onboarding.

In telecom, customers would pass on the phone demo. With gym memberships, they ignored the initial physical fitness assessment to determine their goals. In SaaS, they tune out of the product walkthrough because they think they know the technology or can learn it as they go.

No matter what, it results in the same thing: questions about basic features or why things aren’t happening as they should be. The truth is that they don’t know how the phone works, what they can lift and what the platform can do for them, because they chose to skip the part where I show them.

Skipping onboarding is like getting a final exam in calculus and working backwards, trying to learn it all as you go. It just won’t turn out in your favor. You need the initial preparation, no matter how confident you are that you’ll “figure it out”.

They don’t listen or ask any questions

There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting and talking to a customer who seems like they don’t want to be there. If you’re sitting there and doing other things instead of listening, that’s a signal that you might be on the cancellation list soon.

When customers ask questions, it’s a good indication that they’re invested in their own success and that means both of are travelling down the same road. But when they don’t, I can’t read their mind and figure out what they need to know.

This often forces us to repeat the onboarding process, which isn’t a good use of time for either of us.

When the customer is always right

All things considered, the customer is always right when they’re purchasing from you. They’re making the right choice for themselves or their company (and for you too). But that’s not the end of it.

You’ve sold the person on what your product or service does, and the success of the sale is guaranteed. But the ultimate objective, the customer’s success, isn’t quite met. The other half of the journey is the customer’s active participation in product onboarding and regularly seeking ways to get the most of out of their investment.

Our job in customer support roles is to help customers get a running start, so that when we let them go, they’re ready to go off on their own and all we have to do is check in to see if they’re doing okay and give them a hand whenever they need it.

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