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The Customer Isn’t Always Right

It’s a cardinal rule in retail: The customer is always right.


If you read this blog regularly, you know the emphasis is always on doing whatever it takes to keep existing customers — it’s perhaps more important than ever with today’s economic picture. Yet as hard as every member of the dealership team may work at retaining customers, an honest examination of the keep-’em-at-all-costs approach should reveal that the customer isn’t always right, or even good for the business.

With the outlook for future sales uncertain, we’re forced to put extra emphasis on customer retention and satisfaction. But in doing so, are we blinded to the fact that there are times good business says we should walk away from a customer?


Every dealership has good customers, along with a few others. When best attempts have been made to address a customer’s complaints to no avail, it’s natural to feel compelled to go the extra mile, adding more time, perhaps free products and related costs, and more service to try to placate the customer. When that doesn’t get it done because the customer is a serial complainer, is it time to say tell them it’s probably best that we no longer do business?

Yes, because that’s good business. To be pragmatic, every dealer has limited resources to spend on extra manpower, products and services. It’s clearly not good business to expend those resources on customers who never seem satisfied. After all, customers who are always there but repeatedly cause problems aren’t loyal; they’re abusers.

Moreover, a dealership’s employees are an important part of the equation. Every dealership’s goal is to satisfy customers, of course. Everyone on the team should support that philosophy. However, putting the customer is always right concept above all else really means siding with the customer over employees by default. That’s not good.

In his book Happy Hour is 9 to 5, Alexander Kjerulf forwards the idea that happy employees lead to the best possible customer service. “Believing the customer is always right is a subconscious way of favoring the customer over the employee, which can lead to resentment among employees,” Kjerulf says. “When managers put the employees first, the employees will then put the customers first. Put employees first, and they will be happy at work.”

Put another way, backing up employees whenever possible is the best policy. Managers must respect their judgment and views, and when faced with siding with the employee or an unreasonable customer, the choice should be obvious.

To be clear, there’s no suggestion that anyone on the team quickly give up trying to resolve a customer complaint. But a customer who consistently brings problems triggers a different consideration. In the larger business picture, it’s worth asking if repeatedly trying to please a customer who can’t be satisfied is a good decision for the dealership, its employees and the bottom line.

Cutting ties with such customers also has another benefit, according to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Gates contends that dealing with unhappy customers is a good way to learn what might be done differently to avoid a future problem.

That said, sometimes it’s still best to walk away.



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