“The customer is always right” is a mantra urging service staff to give high priority to customer satisfaction. The slogan was popularized by pioneer successful retailers like Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field. They thought that customer complaints should be treated seriously so customers did not feel cheated or deceived.

Whenever I am interviewed for a radio or TV show, I can always expect the same question, “Richard, is the customer always right?” My answer, always, is “Yes!” Why? Because our company, The Center For Client Retention, which I founded 28 years ago, has conducted hundreds of thousands of interviews/surveys with our client’s customers. The research has shown, 99 percent of the time, bottom line, the customer is right. So why focus on the 1 percent? That doesn’t make sense.

Customer service interactions do not happen in a vacuum. There is always a story before and after. I think it’s ironic that most companies that make a large investment in CRM systems to track customer purchases, fail to train their associates to use the technology. Look at the customer’s buying history before quoting a policy that might end the customer relationship. Telling the customer “no” destroys whatever loyalty exists. Think about it; even conservatively, a person could easily be a loyal patron for five years at any business: a dry cleaner, an Internet provider, a restaurant, an automobile dealer, etc. Someone dines at your restaurant an average of 6 times a year. There is a blip in the kitchen and the customer is unhappy and you refuse to adjust the bill. Your loyal customer never returns. The lost revenue is 6 times 5 years. Your business not only loses income from potentially 30 meals but also ill will could be spread in the community.

Let’s turn the above around. It’s the first time someone is eating in your restaurant and there is a problem that is not solved to the customer’s satisfaction. That too could result in years of lost revenue. A different scenario: a loyal customer wants to return an item and the conversation is, “our return policy is 30 days, but we appreciate your business and loyalty and we will accept the return,” is a reinforcing statement. The customer will remain a loyal customer. If the customer is new and you say, “I know you are new to our store and might not have known our return policy. I will be happy to exchange your item,” is a clear statement to the customer that your business is different and values their patronage.

Guess I’m hungry while writing this and keep returning to dining experiences! Typically, servers at diners have the best attitudes for providing a good customer experience. The other day I was eating at my local diner, a place I return to again and again, and I overheard another patron ask for a special request. The waitress’s response was, “absolutely.” She didn’t even say, “no problem,” a pet peeve of mine. Guarantee we both will come back for more of the same attitude.

It costs 6 to 10 times as much to acquire a new customer. There is advertising, marketing, promotions. Keeping loyal customers or creating new ones from the get go is worth gold. Educate your staff that the “customer is always right” philosophy is a better way to conduct business that focusing on the 1 percent who are always trying to beat the system. Empower your associates with a budget to satisfy customers. It will not only make the customer happy, but spills over to the associates as well.

Is there hesitation about my 1 percent hypotheses? Think of the last time you knew were right and a company told you “no”. How did you feel and did you remain a loyal customer?