“The customer is always right.”
This is a phrase most are familiar with, especially those who have worked in customer service. While the message is well-intentioned — making sure all customers’ voices are heard — it has led to many entitled and abusive customers who expect far too much from employees.
In fact, it serves to encourage this behavior as more and more companies and customer service workers give into the demands of unruly customers. How many times has the scenario played out in favor of the unhappy customer with expired coupons? Or the customer who sends their food back eight times because it “wasn’t what they wanted,” even if it was what they ordered?
Sure, this doesn’t describe every customer out there, and many are very reasonable when requesting to have their needs met. But at the end of the day, who’s more likely to be rewarded for their behavior: The customer who comes in, politely pays for their service and leaves, or the customer who demands a discount the company doesn’t even offer? It’s an unfortunate truth that companies have perpetuated the cycle of rewarding bad behavior..
More often than not, employees are trained to appease customers and will offer discounts or free meals just to keep a customer happy, whether or not they’re being reasonable. Even worse is when employees do everything to remain polite and not upset the customer further, just to have their manager come out and apologize for their employee’s “poor behavior.”
There’s this expectation that they’re supposed to be sympathetic to their customers’ needs and let them know they understand why they’re upset, but there’s never an expectation for customers to, at the very least, be polite toward the employee.
Adding to the stress, their work is often considered “unskilled” as it’s a line of work often perceived to be solely for high schoolers or people who aren’t “qualified” to be in a “real” job or career. This furthers the power imbalance between customer and employee as the customer looks down on the employee for either being a high schooler or working a "high schooler's job."
However, this mistreatment and imbalance could be eased if there were policies in place that allowed for repercussions toward these disruptive customers. The difficulty comes in as to where to draw the line between an unhappy customer and a rude one, but once these are established, it gives the employee more options when their fight or flight mode kicks in other than responding rudely to a customer.
Still, this can only work if the guidelines are clear and the employer has the employee’s back in these situations. This would not only keep from impeding the surrounding customers’ enjoyment and keep from rewarding rude customers for poor behavior, but would help companies reduce turnover by making sure their employees feel taken care of, making them more loyal.
While employers can’t control customer behavior, they can hold them accountable for it. Simply being able to assess who was at fault in a situation rather than defaulting to the “customer is always right” model would force those customers to think twice about being rude to employees or abusing the system to receive more than they paid for and ensure employees are taken care of in the workplace.