Everyone knows the old expression, “The Customer is always right.” Everyone also knows that this is complete rubbish. The customer is not always right. The customer is frequently, if not always, wrong. But I tell you seven times seven times, it doesn’t matter a bit.

Almost every business model is based on repeat customers. Grocery stores, drug stores, cable television – all make their money by having satisfied customers choose them again next time they need food, medicine, or Jerry Springer pay-per-views. Now, you might say “That doesn’t apply to my business. I sell RV’s, or coffins, or bail bonds (hmmm… that’s probably a repeat business, isn’t it?) But if you don’t rely on repeat customers, you still rely on word-of-mouth.

And bad word-of-mouth or bad customer service doesn’t lead to more sales.

Let me tell you a secret. When my customers are in my store, I don’t see them as people. Oh, some of them are great folks, and I know many customers by name. But as a businessman, what I see is a pile of money walking around my store. Sound cold? Maybe, but to be a successful businessman, I need to always see the financial impact.

My goal for every transaction is to take as much of that pile of money as I can, quickly get them out of my store, and encourage them to go out, make more money, and bring it back to me. This, fundamentally, is the definition of Capitalism. And everything I do in my store should help achieve that goal.

How many ways can a customer be wrong? Here’s a few examples off the top of my head:

  1. A customer asked me, “Do you have something called Krispy Kreme doughnuts?” while standing with her back to the rack of Krispy Kremes. From my perspective, there was a giant Krispy Kreme sign over her head.

  2. A customer came up with three cans of Red Bull, insisting that they were 3/$5. I explained that, no, that sale wasn’t on Red Bull, it was on Monster. He got angry and swore that there was a sign on the door. The sign on the door, of course, said “Monster Energy Drinks 3/$5”

  3. A woman complained that our gas pump was malfunctioning, pouring gas onto the ground. I went out to help her, and she was exactly right. I asked her, “Are you sure your tank isn’t full already?” And she insisted it wasn’t. Eventually we figured out that, yes, her tank was full. Her husband had filled it the night before. So why couldn’t she tell?

    Because he hadn’t reset the tripmeter, and she never actually looks at the fuel gauge. Swear to God…

So these customers, and many others, were obviously wrong. But it doesn’t matter. Because they are still a little pile of money walking around my store. Here’s some suggestions for putting this idea into practice.

  1. Never embarrass the customer. You spend 40 hours a week in your store, they don’t. If you point out the doughnuts behind them with a friendly smile, they will feel a little silly all by themselves.

  2. Remember that every day, someone comes into your store for the first time. To that person, your entire store is something new. And most importantly, your behavior doesn’t just show who you are, or what your store is like. To that new customer, you are the entire company. Ever been to a restaurant for the first time and gotten bad service, or a bad piece of chicken? To you, “That restaurant has bad service,” or “Their food didn’t impress me much.” Remember that when the customer is enormously ignorant.

  3. People make mistakes. As hard as it is for me to believe, I do, too. Always start with the long shot possibility that the customer might actually be right for once. Walk through with them to see if you can see it from their perspective. When customers question their total, I always take their receipt and go over it line by line with them. When they realize their mistake, I always tell them that I’d rather take the time to make sure it’s right, instead of them thinking that I ripped them off. And I ain’t lying. A customer who feels like I stole a dollar from them isn’t bringing back their little pile of money, and they’re telling all of their friends, too.

  4. Customers don’t care about your companies accounting practices. “That’s our policy” is a lousy explanation for anything. Take the time to explain WHY it’s done that way. If you don’t know why, find out! If they don’t want to wait, get the customer’s number and call them back with an explanation. But if your customers are constantly inconvenienced by your paperwork, you might need to rethink the way you’re doing things.

  5. In short, you never want to make a customer feel negative about returning to your store. There’s no winning an argument with an customer, even when they’re wrong. Because their next step is to take their money somewhere else. And then your short-term victory becomes a long-term loss.