Is the Customer Always Right?

Customer-is-not-always-rightThis month’s article is by guest blogger and international speaker, Mike Said, who describes himself as a “Marketer, Public Speaker, Committed Dad & Part Time Adrenaline Junky, just doing what I love!”

For branding strategy, market development and restaurant consulting, contact Mike at  

“If it wasn’t for the customers, the suppliers and the staff… this would be a great job” lamented our victim as he trawled through the complaints on one of the many Facebook restaurant review pages. “For heaven’s sake, why couldn’t they just complain to me, instead of writing to the world about that one tiny little unreasonable incident?”

“That’s because the customer is always right!” said a voice from his distant past.

Is the Customer Always Right?

“No!” he shouted to no one in particular. “He is NOT always right, but he is the customer and it is the customer’s right to be wrong”.

You may feel that all this is semantics and just a slightly different way of explaining the same thing, but in essence there is a huge difference. Adopting the “The customer is always right” philosophy is tantamount to saying “I am always wrong” or “My staff is always wrong” or “The restaurant is always wrong” and that can’t possibly be true.

I recently bought a shirt at a men’s clothing store. It was marked “Medium”. When I arrived home I discovered it was in fact a “Small”.

Back to the store I went. I stood in line at the ‘Customer Service’ counter (now there is a misnomer if ever there was one), waited patiently for my turn, had to supply the store with proof of purchase, two forms of ID, proof of residence and a blood sample before they gave me permission to change an item that they had marked incorrectly.

No free shirt, no complimentary round of socks for everyone in the line, in fact not even an apology!

So why is it when I enter a restaurant and there is the tiniest error, I feel entitled to complain at the top of my voice, rant and rave if necessary, act as thought the error was a personal slight and then demand compensation in the form of a free meal or a round of drinks for the table?

10 Characteristics of Highly Successful Restaurants

Are Restaurants Themselves to Blame?

Has our own willingness to accept all responsibility and to offer any form of compensation we can dream up, come back to bite us in the rear?

Strangely, I feel it runs a lot deeper than that. Strangely, I think it is a reflection of the state of the psychosis of the country. We feel so emasculated.

We have a government who appear to do as they please, public servants who appear hell bent on making our lives miserable, road users who push us around, kids that no longer respect us and nowhere to vent our frustration. That is until we walk into a restaurant!

This is the safe space, the psychologist couch, the one place we can exert our authority, our chance to prove our manhood and our superiority. Strange thing about the restaurant industry is that it is one of the few where there are more experts not in the industry than in it.

Everyone An Expert!

Everyone knows more about meat cuts than we do, everyone has a better way to make a sauce, a dish or a dessert and everyone knows what good service should be (even if they are unable to deliver it in their own businesses).

There is no denying the fact that every cent that comes into a restaurant, enters the doors inside the wallet, inside the pocket of one of our customers and without them there would simply be no business. But then the same applies to most businesses and they don’t feel the need to take the pain and the abuse that the restaurant industry does.

Falling foot counts, falling spending power and falling margins have made each and every customer more valuable than they have ever been before. There is an old adage that says:

“Nothing is sacred other than that the customer returns and nothing costs more than an empty chair!”

Is there an answer to this conundrum?

Well maybe not a definitive one, but maybe I can offer some advice that will help you to sleep easy and assured that you have at least given it your best shot.

Let me start by introducing you to my very own 10 – 80 – 10 Rule (from hereon to be forever referred to as Mike’s Law, kinda like Newton’s “Law of Gravity” or Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Law of the Few”, only much more important).

Mike’s law says we can divide our customers into three distinct groups: 

  • the bottom 10% who we truly wish would never enter our establishments again
  • the top 10% who we are quite prepared to move heaven and earth for and ‘the rest’ 
  • the other 80% who come and go almost without notice

For some reason we then spend all of our energy trying desperately to get the bottom 10% not to hate us so much and the top 10% to keep on loving us.

The answer to real success actually lies in getting rid of the bottom 10% without a moment’s thought, maintaining a strong but healthy relationship with the top 10% and concentrating MOST of our effort on a certain segment of the 80%.

You need to find the 10-20% of the middle group who are almost great regulars, almost brand ambassadors and do all you can to tip them into the top group. Now you are on the way to a highly successful business.

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