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The Customer is Always Right

John Landis is the owner of Landis Plumbing and Heating. One of his residential customers, Mrs. Edmonds lives alone in a big house and Mrs. Edmonds has refused John’s invitation to invest in a service maintenance plan. Instead, Mrs. Edmonds only calls when a repair is necessary. Mrs. Edmonds’ upstairs toilet tank had been filling intermittently and rather than call Landis for service, she tolerated the intermittency for as long as she could. When the tank stopped filling altogether, Mrs. Edmonds phoned Landis for service with the expectation of a quick and inexpensive repair.

“Why can’t you come right now?” Mrs. Edmonds complained to John. John took a slow and silent deep breath prior to explaining to Mrs. Edmonds that his daily schedule was already filled. “I need you today, not tomorrow. If I needed you tomorrow, then I’d call you tomorrow.” yelled Mrs. Edmonds in a harsh tone of voice. John thought to himself, “If only Mrs. Edmonds hadn’t waited until now this phone call could have been averted.”

John felt his emotions swell and he almost lost his temper when he remembered that the customer is always right. This simple phrase resulted in a more rational approach to how he listened while Mrs. Edmonds complained and it gave John the inner calm to use a constructive diversion. When Mrs. Edmonds paused for a moment, she heard the unexpected. “Want to save 10% on this toilet repair? John asked. The two seconds of stunned silence on the other end of the phone told John that his constructive diversion had worked. Mrs. Edmonds’ affirmative response indicated her willingness to hear more. This gave John the opportunity to convey the benefits of preventive maintenance. Suddenly using the downstairs toilet until tomorrow wasn’t such a big inconvenience to Mrs. Edmonds.

Some customers have unreasonable expectations, and their motive is usually not malice or disdain. Instead, unreasonable expectations result from being uninformed. Therefore, the service professional must remain calm, resourceful, and—most important—constructive. The following illustrated story depicts how a constructive diversion can change a customer’s attitude with a calm and resourceful reply.

In this story, John used a containment problem-solving method during his phone call with Mrs. Edmonds. Realizing things were not under control, John knew the situation would need to be contained before he could qualify the real issue and then correct the problem. Holding his tongue and remaining calm while Mrs. Edmonds vented her frustration enabled John to conceive a constructive diversion that shifted control back to John.

Customers are wrong sometimes. They make incorrect assumptions, exaggerate the facts, or become inflexible in their point of view. Regardless of what a customer does wrong, a service professional must maintain a positive attitude and remember that “the customer is always right.”

Steve Coscia

The road from professional musician to thirty-year customer service veteran to best-selling author and speaker is not a typical career path, but Steve Coscia may have started a new trend.

Coscia is one of the most widely published and quoted authorities in the customer service industry. He has published more than 200 articles, four books and a series of training DVDs. His college curriculum is taught at institutions of higher learning throughout the United States and Canada.

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