Is the Customer Always Right?


Is the Customer Always Right?

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By Jim Cudahy

questioningAbout 20 years ago, I was watching a segment on 20/20 orDateline that went to great lengths to test — even strain — one of the long-held commandments of business, which is that the customer is always right. In the segment, an imposter customer was placed in a department store with a dress shirt from a different retail outlet.

When approached by a salesperson and asked if he needed help, the customer shared that he had purchased a shirt at this store recently, that the shirt was the wrong color and didn’t fit, and that he wanted to exchange it and buy some more items. The customer, of course, was wrong, which he knew, and which the salesperson quickly figured out as well.

But, again, the theory at test here was that the customer is always right.

The news crew played out the scenario five or six times at different stores. On each occasion, the salesperson would look at the collar label on the shirt and gleefully point out that the shirt was from an altogether different store. The customer then would summon mock outrage, insisting that no matter what the label said that he was certain he had purchased the shirt at this store. Ultimately, a manager would get involved to settle things down, but on the first five or six occasions, the manager informed the customer that he was wrong. The customer left the store with the original shirt in hand and having purchased nothing new. Then the customer went into Nordstrom where the scene was entirely different.

The salesperson was apologetic about the shirt, and he called his manager over to solve the problem. The manager took the shirt from the customer, invited him to continue shopping with the salesperson while he determined what the appropriate value of the shirt should be. Ultimately the customer arrived at the register with several hundred dollars’ worth of merchandise, and the manager informed him that the credit for the shirt would be $65, or something in that neighborhood.

Afterward, the news crew revealed that the customer had been phony and that they only were trying to see how Nordstrom would react to an unreasonable customer’s erroneous claim about a shirt that clearly was not from Nordstrom. The manager’s reaction was this: “I would rather have this customer in my store with a $65 credit in his hand shopping than walking away to shop someplace else.”

Nordstrom, of course, is widely known for how obsessive it is about customer service.
When you think about other companies that build their brands around service, you think of companies like Marriott and Disney and FedEx. These are companies that study the customer experience from every angle and have built multi-billion-dollar businesses around the concept that however wrong a customer might be at a given moment, he or she is always right.

I know that court reporters work in high-pressured environments in which customers — attorneys, judges, paralegals, and legal secretaries — are prone to making unreasonable, last-minute requests. I’m likewise sure that such requests often are not packaged with bows in Cinderella-sweet invitations. I’m likewise sure that, in high-pressured, fast-paced legal proceedings, there are few things that are less important to attorneys, their clients, and their witnesses than the plight of a court reporter. This, I am sure, can be frustrating to the point of anger, but it is at those moments of greatest frustration and anger that it is most important to remember that — and yes, I’m hiding under my desk as I type this — the customer is always right.

In talking with court reporters around the country, I know there are plenty who get it. They understand that unreasonable requests by customers provide opportunities for them to fulfill those requests and, in so doing, solidify relationships and ensure continued business. But what I also see, way too often, are Facebook posts and Tweets by court reporters that admonish and insult attorneys and witnesses. Maybe such quips are done to vent frustrations and to bring humor to situations that otherwise would be too stressful to bear. I understand that. But the net effect of such actions brings disrespect to the court reporting profession, and it sends a terrible message to young court reporters and students.

So, is the customer always right? Take a deep breath. Exhale. Now answer.

About the Author

Jim Cudahy, CAE, is Executive Director and CEO of NCRA

© Copyright NCRA 2014. All rights reserved. This article originally appreared in NCRA’s monthly magazine, The Journal of Court Reporting.

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