Is the customer always right?

This is a guest post from Stacya Silverman, owner of Stacya Silverman and Associates Salon.

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I like to think of myself not only as a person who practices good customer service at my shop, but in my off hours, I try to be a good customer, too. But what does that mean?  I’ve been thinking about the relationship between the role of the service worker and the customer. One of the top news stories of 2010 took a bizarre turn— a Jet Blue flight attendant, Steven Slater, had a confrontation with a passenger, (much of what Slater said happened turned out to be fabricated, but he stated a passenger wouldn’t sit down during landing and hit Slater in the head with a bag.) It was reported that after the confrontation with the customer, Slater freaked out—had some choice words over the speaker system, grabbed a beer, and then opened the emergency exit and took off down the inflatable slide. Dramatic! It was interesting to see how people viewed that incident when the news first aired.

Who did you relate to the most when you heard that news, the Jet Blue customer or the attendant?  Most people felt some level of understanding with the attendant. He became a hero to some, and Steven Slater certainly got his 15 minutes of fame. The reaction to this story at my salon was that customers have become much more rude and out of control.  And this was coming from my clients!  At a dinner with our neighbors, it was decided that this flight attendant had our sympathies. Perhaps we’ve all been in a service job at one point in our lives and have had an experience with a customer that drove us off the emotional cliff— or in this case, the inflatable slide.

So, what does it mean to be a good customer?  Does it mean that you’re the biggest spender?  That the more money you spend in a shop gives you “good customer” standing?  Many of my favorite customers are not the ones who are able to purchase high ticket items at my salon.  I look forward to seeing these women and men because they are thoughtful, punctual, value time, they do not “no-show” for appointments…and if they do, they offer to pay for my time.

I guess my clients are the kind of customer that I strive to be. Whether I am at the hairdresser, or making a dinner reservation, I’m always aware of the appointment or reservation time and how long it will take me to get there.  If I must cancel with my hairdresser or LMP, I give 24 hours notice, and if I can’t— I pay for the service. With dinner reservations, if I can’t make it, I always call so they can give the table to another party. You don’t have to collect etiquette books to be a thoughtful, considerate customer.

I look back on my teens and twenties and I wish I could make amends, I don’t think I understood what my role was as a customer!  But we keep learning and hopefully, keep getting better.

I’ve been lucky to have great clients at my shop, and wonderful places where I’m treated like a valued customer. I’ve heard some horror stories over the years— people return used underwear because they know a particular department store has an amazing return policy, vacationers who trash rental properties, customers who use almost everything in the container and then return it to the cosmetic counter for a full refund. There are clients who repeatedly no-show for appointments and customers who view themselves as wine experts and return expensive bottles of wine at restaurants simply because they don’t like it. (Do return wine to the server if the bottle is “corked,” otherwise, you should know your regions and your labels.)  Last but not least, the impossible customers who have unrealistic expectations of what the service person can do for them, and become outraged when their demands are not met.

Both the customer, and the service person have a role to play, and I’d much prefer to be the customer that everyone looks forward to seeing rather than the one who people in the service industry dread seeing. I’m sure many people don’t even realize they are in the dreaded category— a little self-awareness goes a long way! I have collected etiquette books for over 15 years, and I have some dating back to the 1800’s, but very few focus on the subject of “what makes a great customer?” There must be an app for that, somewhere.

About Stacya

Stacya Silverman is owner of Stacya Silverman and Associates Salon as well as an etiquette aficionado.

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One thought on “Is the customer always right?

  1. Carole

    The customer is not always right. At least, not when the customer takes this phrase out of context and thinks that they can be demanding, rude, and costly to the business and you will continue to do business with them. I have refunded a couple of customer orders in a 10-year period, but will not allow these customers to buy from me again. Especially if a customer is costly–I will have to raise prices for all of my good customers, so they are really not worth it. I agree with Stacya’s description of a good customer; they are not always the biggest spenders. They are always considerate and reasonable and when necessary offer honest, constructive feedback.

    Here are a couple of articles that every small business person should read and ponder:

    Its Okay Really. You Can Fire Your Clients: http://www.businessblogshub.com/2010/08/its-okay-really-you-can-fire-your-clients/

    When You Should Say No – 3 Reasons to Fire a Client: http://salesmarks.com/archives/when-you-should-say-no-3-reasons-to-fire-a-customer/

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