A Global View of ‘The Customer is Always Right’

“The customer is always right” particularly stood out during a time when misrepresentation was rife and “caveat emptor” was a common legal maxim. We might know the phrase better as “let the buyer beware.” “Caveat emptor” puts all of the responsibility on the customer. They are responsible for checking the quality of a product before they buy it. If there’s anything wrong with the item after they make the purchase, that’s on the customer. The seller doesn’t have to declare anything or help the customer in any way. It’s a opposite view to “the customer is always right,” where brands go out of their way to serve and trust customers.

“The customer is always right” may be the most famous expression of customer loyalty, but it isn’t the only one. The idea has spread around the world in different forms.

“Le client n’a jamais tort” (the customer is never wrong) was the slogan of Swiss hotelier César Ritz, founder of Ritz Carlton hotels. He said: “If a diner complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked” in the 1890s. That attitude still permeates Ritz Carlton hotels and is a big factor in the brand’s success. Customers know that when they stay at a Ritz Carlton, they will be treated very well and have all their needs met. The company doesn’t spend time questioning customers’ complaints but instead works to quickly solve problems.

In Spanish the phrase is “El cliente siempre tiene la razón.” In Italian, it’s “il cliente ha sempre ragione.” Both phrases translate to “the customer always has a reason.” It’s up to employees and customer service agents to find that reason and make sure customers are treated well.

In Germany the phrase is “der Kunde ist König” (the customer is king). Germany recently updated its consumer protection laws to provide more options and support for customers. Customers can really feel like kings when they have legislative rights and can stand up for themselves.

The Japanese have the motto, “okyakusama wa kamisama desu” (お客様は神様です), meaning “the customer is a god.” That sentiment is echoed in Japan’s Consumer Contract Act, which assures fair trade for customers and prohibits unfair commercial practices.

The view towards customers has evolved over time. But no matter where you are in the world, being customer-centric means thinking about the customer experience. The customer might not always be right, however being thoughtful in your approach to customer experience will always serve your company well. Companies need to embrace customer experience and trust every customer to build successful relationships.

Blake Morgan is a keynote speaker, futurist and author of “More Is More.” Sign up for her weekly customer experience newsletter here

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