Customer Service: Is the Customer Ever Right?

By Martin Murphy
Martin Murphy
Martin Murphy
June 7, 2013 Updated: June 7, 2013

Every time I hear the saying “The customer is always right,” I think to myself: well, that’s obviously something that’s gone out of fashion these days.

Up until recently, I could have counted on one hand–dare I say one finger–the number of times I’ve received satisfactory customer service in Dublin.

I assumed that the current economic crisis would have brought the best out of retailers and the service sector, where they would go that extra mile to make sure their customers were happy. I can’t say I’ve seen much progress in that regard.

How many times have you turned up at a shop where the staff-members are preparing to close (just before closing time), and they won’t serve you? Okay, they aren’t being paid to stay late, but is it not in their best interest for the business to have more customers?

If you’ve ever been to the USA, you will appreciate what good customer service is like. Your waiter\waitress more often than not will arrive with a big smile and some pleasantries, compared to a frown and a “what do you want?” over here. 

The impression I get from a high proportion of retail staff in Dublin is that I’ve just interrupted them while they were chatting with their work colleague about their drinking session the evening before! How rude of me to do that!

This is by no means going to turn into a litany of all the times I had to wait in a shop or restaurant, or other forms of bad customer service such as being left waiting on the phone. But just because customers don’t complain—which is often the case in Ireland as we generally don’t complain even if we are paying for something—the absence of a complaint does not equate to customer satisfaction, so if you are relying on complaint levels as a Key Performance Indicator to assess your business, you might not be getting the results you deserve.

On a recent trip to a BNI business networking group, almost all of the business owners said that business through referrals or word of mouth was paramount to their business. They all valued customer service and going the extra mile for their customers. They were all looking to the future when they dealt with a customer; it wasn’t always what they were currently purchasing but what they might one day buy, or who they might tell and what they might say.

One of the business owners was a builder who specialised in work that saw himself and his staff mostly in people’s homes. He said that as well as doing an excellent job, his staff were asked to remember that they were working in people’s homes and that they had to respect that they needed to make cleaning up after themselves, as well as their behaviour, an absolute priority—“No bad language,” he said.

When I heard him say that, it reminded me of a builder who called around to my house to give a quote the week before last. If first impressions truly last then he was really up against it. I mean if he couldn’t even turn up on time, how was he going to complete the job on time? Next, his whole conversation consisted of a constant stream of expletives. I wasn’t going to let his outward appearance and actions influence my decision, so I asked for a quote, which he said he would have the next day. I guess he must still be working on it a two weeks later…

Let’s just say I was slightly disheartened with customer service in general; from builders, banks, retailers, etc. So when my laptop stopped working recently, I thought to myself, here we go, another rip-off. I’d like to think that I’m fairly computer savvy, so when no tinkering could get it to start, I expected the worst. 

Fortunately for me I happened upon a newly-opened IT shop on Dublin’s Pearse Street called “Into IT”. I left the laptop with Karl and he said he’d call me before lunch time, which, surprise surprise, he did. He also had good news: my laptop was fixed in a matter of seconds, and there was no charge. I couldn’t believe it. When I collected my computer he gave a brief explanation to a fault that this make of computer had, which could be fixed easily. Bemused, I asked about their business model, and Karl said they were trying to provide an affordable, customer-focused service to people. Essentially, no more ripping off those who have no idea about IT issues!

I’ve been back a few times over the last few months and they have stuck to their mantra, proving to me that there are still businesses out there who are trying to make the customer King.