06 Apr 2020 By Pat Pattinson

“Customers: the unwanted necessity.”
Pat Pattinson

Let’s go back to business basics: a business owns a product or service that a client needs or wants.  That client, out of their own free will, comes to the business, determines the viability of the product by assessing the cost versus the benefit, and either purchases the product or walks away. 

It sounds so simple. Business has, after all, been done this way since Neanderthals swapped fire for tools. Yes, the basics have changed from the barter system used in the dark ages, to the universal use of coins and money, and now we have evolved to EFTs and crypto currencies. However, the concept stays the same. Or does it?

As time goes on, it seems that the customer continually wants more. Not only that, but they want it cheaper and faster but with the same quality. So, what’s wrong with that? After all, the written rule has always been that ‘the customer is always right’. Or does it say, “the customer is more important than sustainability”? As business owners, we need to realise that we actually teach our clients how to treat us. By allowing customers to handicap us, we fail them in the long run.

When businesses succumb to the pressure to make a product cheaper, the product may inevitably suffer. After all, you get what you pay for. Even worse, sometimes your staff suffer too - and what is your business without your staff? The tendency is for the company to side with the once-off, unreasonable, demanding (often rude) customer, rather than its loyal and well-informed, hard-working members of staff.

While I’m not saying that “the customer is always wrong” or that we should change the way business is done, consider that the following phrase: ‘The customer is always right’ was popularised in the early 1900 by Harry Selfridge, who founded the Selfridge’s department store in London. There is more to the history of this saying, however, as Harry Selfridge adapted it from the phrase ‘the customer is never wrong’ credited to César Ritz, a French hotelier in 1908. Since nothing else in the world has changed, why should this statement change?

The phrase that I prefer, and which is a lot more recent, was coined by Herb Kelleher, CEO of South West Airline in America. He said it after receiving yet another complaint from a regular customer of the airline. This customer would, after each flight and without fail, complain about the airline and the new directions it was taking. After numerous replies, apologies and explanations, the customer relations department eventually handed the file, nicknamed "Pen Pal", to Herb. Within 60 seconds he simply replied:

 “'Dear Mrs. Crabapple, we will miss you. Love, Herb.'"

Some customers are simply not worth having. They take up far too much time and as we are all n business to make money time is money. That means doing what is legally necessary, to accept criticism from our customers, and if letting them believe they are right is required, that is fine  –  as long as it is not done to the detriment of you as the owner, your business or your staff. Once again, this need not necessarily be because you like your staff, but because you need them, they will be back at work tomorrow and your client most probably won’t be.

Pat Pattinson
082 749 6462