A slogan designed to make those who deal with customers remember that, no matter what the customer does or how stupid he or she seems, it is the customer that pays the bills, so one must tolerate the customer at all costs. A stupid idea.

The customer is right only when losing that customer is not worth telling them they are wrong. A customer's worth includes not only their personal purchasing power, but those they may tell their experiences to, and those who are watching the scene. Because a bad experience has 12 times the chance of being told than a good experience, giving in to irrational demands is sometimes the reasonable choice. Some businesses also follow a general monetary guideline, such that if the request is below a certain value, it will be granted.

Now for some practical examples taken from Real LifeTM! What do you do? What do you do?

Scenario 1:
A customer attempts to return a rotten head of cabbage to a supermarket chainstore. The item was purchased a week before, and there is no receipt. Item costs what a head of cabbage usually goes for.

Scenario 2:
A customer attempts to return a truly defective set of audio speakers to a retail store. The item was purchased the same day, there is a receipt. The problem is, the speakers came from a clearance table which warned customers products were possibly defective returns and was unreturnable. However, the original manufacturer's warranty is valid from the date of purchase. Speakers are valued at just under $20.

Scenario 3:
A customer attempts to return a rotten head of cabbage to a corner grocery. The item was purchased the same day, and there is a receipt.


1 - Sure, the item doesn't cost that much to replace, but the customer is so clearly wrong. A supermarket cannot sustain itself if every product that went bad was returned. If the store gave in now, it would have to give in every time. The customer was told never to come again. Stupidity is infectious.

2 - Selling defective products is bad press. The item can be resold. The situation was defused as quickly as possible and the customer got their money back.

3 - Trick question! This corner grocery cuts some corners and doesn't get rid of old, unsold perishable items. It even re-dates milk cartons. When you know you're cheating your customers, you always give in.

An idea used by customers that some in the service industry have countered with the following response to unruly customers while still treating them with dignity (see diplomacy). It is usually never said to the customer's face, but is a belief held on to by the clerk:

"The customer is not always right, however the customer is still a customer"

Source: Texaco sales clerk training session

The exact origin of the phrase, "The customer is always right," is unknown, but it is most often attributed to Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridge's department store in London. However, it was in use in the Marshall Fields chain in the late 1800's before Selfridge's ever opened their doors. Furthermore, Cesar Ritz, the French hotelier who founded the Ritz hotel chain, is credited with saying, "Le client n'a jamais tort," which translates to, "The customer is never wrong."

The true origin of the concept is probably even older than that.

At my workplace, we have been told that "The customer is always right" is not to be tolerated.

What I have been taught is that "The customer is always first".

What this means is that you can correct a customer and you can tell them that they are wrong, and that the store down the street does not, infact, have that model for half the price. They have one that looks like it, but is not the same.

However, if there is a customer there, unless you are serving someone else, you are to drop what you are doing to serve them. They are not right, but they are the most important thing around you.

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