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‘The customer is always right’ – the marketing myth

If your business delivers customer service, you may be familiar with the common misconception that ‘the customer is always right’. The phrase was originally coined by Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1909, the founder of Selfridges in London. It was a brand promise for customers to expect outstanding service, which set the department store above competitors, providing a unique selling point.

Marketing and the role of customer service

Providing top notch customer service is at the heart of marketing theory and practise. It is also common sense, if you provide customers with a good service then they will return for more and recommend you to friends and family. Plus, in this digital age, they will leave good reviews on search engines and social media platforms. This in turn leads to natural organic growth. By far the most effective and inexpensive form of advertising is word of mouth.

The cost of outstanding customer service

The key management question for any business, is ‘customer service at what expense?’ It is a common mistake for business owners to overlook the fundamentals of Marketing strategy. If we go back to the definition of Marketing as a discipline, ultimately it is about conducting business profitably, therefore providing outstanding customer service should never be at the expense of profit or employee morale.

“Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” The Chartered Institute of Marketing

At the expense of profit

Particularly in a start-up or newly established company, it is often tempting to go beyond what is required at a significant cost to the business, by way of obtaining a foot in the door with a big client or establishing an initial customer base. This can be advantageous and often leads to rapid growth. It will need to be managed to ensure it is sustainable for the future. A level of expectation should be established at the outset, to deliver value at the right price for both parties. It is harder to start to charge for those little extras further down the line, when you have provided them in the past for free.

Go the extra mile not the full distance

Delivering a service over and above the expectation will undoubtedly lead to a happier customer. The danger lurks when the cost of providing added service outweighs benefit gained. The phrase ‘the customer is always right’ is a dangerous tipping point of power balance. It breeds entitlement. It gives your customer ultimate say and control over the relationship.

Never give in to social media threats

With the rise of social media used as a medium for customer service complaints, difficult customers will often use it as a bargaining tool. If an unhappy customer threatens to give you a bad review or hit out on social media, unless you give in to their demands, then let them. Social media is not intended as a tool for blackmail. If your business offers consistent excellent service, your positive reviews will outshine the negatives. Unreasonable disgruntled customers are often easy to spot in ratings feeds and with most social media platforms you will have the opportunity to respond politely with the facts.

A two-way relationship

A business relationship with a customer is no different to any other human personal relationship. It needs to be mutually beneficial with both parties equally delighted with the outcome. This is the customer service recipe that will grow successful business and help them to flourish.

If you would like to review your customer service strategy or how to manage your business reputation on social media, please get in touch to speak to a member of the team.