When the Customer is Not Always Right: Setting Boundaries in Customer Service

frustrated man working in home office
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As a customer service representative, you may have heard the phrase “the customer is always right” many times. This is a common mantra in the service industry, and it is meant to emphasize the importance of satisfying the customer’s needs and expectations.

However, this phrase can also be misleading and harmful, especially when it comes to dealing with difficult or abusive customers.

In this blog post, we will explore why the customer is not always right, and how you can set healthy and respectful boundaries in customer service. We will also share some tips and examples on how to handle challenging situations with customers without compromising your own well-being or professionalism.

Why the customer is not always right

The idea that the customer is always right originated in the early 20th century, when some business owners wanted to differentiate themselves from their competitors by offering exceptional service and quality.

The phrase was meant to convey that the customer’s opinion and satisfaction mattered more than anything else, and that the business would do whatever it took to please them.

However, this idea has some flaws and limitations.

First of all, it assumes that the customer is always rational, reasonable, and informed, which is not always the case. Sometimes, customers may have unrealistic or unreasonable expectations, make mistakes or misunderstandings, or act in bad faith or with malicious intent.

In these situations, blindly following the customer’s wishes may lead to poor outcomes for both the customer and the business.

Secondly, the idea that the customer is always right disregards the rights and needs of the employees who serve them.

Customer service representatives are human beings who deserve respect, dignity, and fair treatment. They also have their own expertise, experience, and judgment that can help them provide better service and solutions.

When customers are rude, abusive, or demanding, they can cause stress, frustration, and burnout for the employees who have to deal with them. This can affect their performance, motivation, and morale, as well as their physical and mental health.

Therefore, it is important to recognize that the customer is not always right, and that sometimes it is necessary to say no to them or to disagree with them.

This does not mean that you should be rude or dismissive of your customers, or that you should ignore their feedback or complaints. It simply means that you should balance your customer’s needs and wants with your own rights and responsibilities as a service provider.

People say the customer is always right, but you know what – they’re not. Sometimes they are wrong and they need to be told so.

Michael Oleary

How to set boundaries in customer service?

Angry employee explaining to his female boss why the customer is not always right.
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Setting boundaries in customer service means defining what you can and cannot do for your customers, what you expect from them in return, and how you will respond if they cross the line.

Boundaries help you protect your own well-being and integrity, as well as maintain a professional and respectful relationship with your customers.

Here are some steps you can take to set boundaries in customer service:

1. Know your policies and procedures.

Before you interact with customers, make sure you are familiar with your company’s policies and procedures regarding service standards, quality assurance, refunds, exchanges, warranties, etc.

These policies and procedures are designed to protect both you and your customers from potential conflicts or misunderstandings. They also provide you with clear guidelines on what you can and cannot do for your customers.

2. Communicate your boundaries clearly and politely.

When you talk to your customers, be clear and polite about what you can and cannot do for them, what you need from them to help them better, and what the consequences are if they violate your boundaries.

For example, you can say something like “I’m sorry, but I cannot process your refund without a receipt“, “I need you to calm down and lower your voice so I can assist you“, or “If you continue to use profanity, I will have to end this call“. Use a firm but respectful tone of voice, and avoid being defensive or aggressive.

Bonus Content: 10 email templates to respond to angry customers. Get them now!

3. Enforce your boundaries consistently.

If your customers cross your boundaries or disrespect you, do not hesitate to enforce them accordingly.

For example, if a customer is abusive or threatening, you can warn them once or twice before hanging up or escalating the issue to a supervisor. If a customer is asking for something that is against your policy or beyond your authority,

Conclusion: The Customer is Not Always Right

Businesses should not blindly follow this mantra that “customers are always right”.

While it is important to listen to customer feedback and provide excellent service, it is also essential to respect the employees, the policies and the values of the organization.

Sometimes, customers may have unrealistic expectations, unreasonable demands or abusive behaviours that can harm the business and its staff. In such cases, businesses should be able to say no, offer alternatives or even end the relationship with the customer. By doing so, they can protect their reputation, their resources and their culture.

Do you have any instances or opinion that you’d like to share with other readers? Please mention in the comments. Thank you!

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By BMB Staff

Business Management Blog is your online resource for business management and strategy articles, insights, ideas and tools. We talk about Business Management, Strategy, Customer Experience, Employee Engagement, Leadership and Career Growth. Subscribe to the blog to get updates about new posts.

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