Is the Customer Always Right? 5 Times When the Answer Is “No”



The customer isn’t always right. Not literally, at least.

Otherwise we’d be able to walk out of any store with a product of our choosing, without paying.

When an employee stops you, just say: “I’m not paying. I’m the customer, and I’m always right.”

We know that what corporate America means when it says, “The customer is always right,” is a little more nuanced. It means a company will never knowingly disappoint you, and as much as possible, it wants you to have your way.

Too bad it doesn’t always end up that way.

As a consumer advocate, I hate having to tell people that they’re wrong. But sometimes, I do. Here are five times when the customer is always wrong:

1. You made an incorrect assumption about a product

I encounter this problem frequently, since I specialize in resolving travel complaints. An airline passenger assumes the first checked bag or a seat reservation is included in the price of a ticket, but it isn’t. Then he complains to the airline. (In fairness, these fees are frequently not disclosed as well as they should be.) But making assumptions about a product doesn’t make you right. It’s bound to lead to disappointments. And it’s an unwinnable argument with a company.

2. The product is out of warranty

If a product breaks outside of the warranty, you’re out of luck. Companies offer (and profit handsomely from) extended warranties, and replacing a broken product outside of that would “undermine” the value of those extended warranties, in their view. It’s shortsighted, but on this issue, corporate America is right. Technically, it doesn’t have to service an item that’s out of warranty.

3. You didn’t get a promise in writing

Promises made by employees on the phone may well represent an oral contract, but a smart customer gets any assurance in writing. Why? Because disagreements about what was – or wasn’t – promised easily devolve into an unproductive “he said/she said” argument. And ultimately, a futile one. All the more reason to limit your correspondence to email, which is hard evidence of a company’s intentions.

4. You’re being a “gimme pig”

Customers who ask for more than they’re entitled – demanding a new product when only a part is defective or insisting on an upgrade to a suite when their standard room has a leaky faucet – aren’t just wrong, they also make it exceptionally difficult for other customers with legitimate grievances to get what they deserve when something goes wrong. I’ll have more on gimme pigs next week.

5. The law isn’t on your side

It’s simple – if the company has provided you with the service you paid for, then it has fulfilled its contract. It isn’t required to give you anything more. This works the other way around, too, as I pointed out in last week’s post. If a company hasn’t provided you with the product for which you paid it, it’s in breach of contract, and it is wrong. Every time.

All of these “always wrong” situations are easily avoided. And if they are, then the adage, “The customer is always right” may ring true for you.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitterand Facebook or send him your questions by email.

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