“The customer is always right,” is an over-used phrase that originated in the UK and USA retail businesses in the early 20th century.

It was never meant to be taken literally. The entrepreneurs who made the phrase popular intended to make their customers feel special, and asked their staffs to behave as if customers were always right, even when they weren’t.

The intention of the phrase is to garner buying loyalty. In my opinion there is no better way to approach this than making your customers feel special.

In my most recent blog I wrote about customer care and about how being empathetic is something customer service reps learn from their leaders. But company leaders and managers should make themselves aware of the attitude their staff conveys to customer at all times. When not face-to-face it can be very difficult to convey empathy, and the obvious way to avoid creating tension with the customer is to behave as if the customer is most certainly in the right.

I recently had a personal experience with very poor customer service that forced me to take my business elsewhere. This was an extreme, but probably not rare, case in which a close family member passed away and I needed to cancel a contract by phone. Delicacy in this situation was highly called for, but was not found. This led me to create a list of don’ts, which may seem obvious, and yet I run into them time and again.

Don’t be inflexible
• Don’t tie your customer care reps’ hands with policy
• Enable them to make good decisions based on the information at hand
• Make sure they know all of the policies inside and out. Even the most obscure.

Don’t be inaccessible
• Everyone deserves to speak to a live person. If there are a million prompts to go through at least give the customer an out to go back to reception where they can find someone to listen to them.

Don’t be condescending
• Customers know when you’re being insincere.
• Don’t make small talk that doesn’t make sense or is inappropriate. It’s insulting.
• Be aware of the tone of voice you’re using. It is detectable by the person you’re speaking with.

Don’t try to hard sell
• It’s okay to ask questions but trying too hard to turn a support issue into a sales opportunity can be seen as aggressive and might end up alienating the customer.

Don’t be inhuman
• It’s okay to show some empathy to the customer’s situation. Being a robot creates conflict even where there might not be any.
• Never disparage the other people that work at your company. It’s a reflection on you.

Don’t ask too much of the customer
• Don’t ask your customer to do things that you wouldn’t do yourself in their situation.
• Try to think of yourself in this person’s shoes and then respond in a way in which you’d want to be responded to.

Don’t forget that the customer is the reason you’re there
• Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the internal obligations of the company you work for.
• Without customers, there is NO company.

We all know “the customer is always right” is an overused phrase, but making the customer feel comfortable and appreciated is the highest priority for everyone in the company, and converts to a definite win in customer retention.