Is The Customer REALLY Always Right?

I was just reading through my usual Twitter feed, and came upon an Inc. Magazine article regarding arguing with customers.  It got me thinking about a customer we have at work (customer, aircraft, and my place of work shall remain nameless), who at first glance, seems to be a person who is just seriously detail-oriented.  He spent a lot of money to have a sixty year old airplane restored to showroom quality, and wants to keep it as close to that level as possible.  I respect that one hundred percent.

Problems came when he quickly began lighting off accusations that we had caused damage to his aircraft, and weren’t delivering the service he had expected from us.  The quick and dirty details here are that the “damage” to the paint that he’d pointed a finger at us over had already been there, and happened as a symptom of his own regular, daily use of his airplane.  He also had an engine (fuel flow) problem that was found on our incoming inspection–we have it on paper–that he claims we caused and wants not to be charged for.  I’ve heard him effectively berating my managers as I move about my business at work (the office door is left open, for some reason), and my bosses say virtually nothing to argue with him (probably the right move).

He also goes through the bill with a fine-toothed comb (also respectable), nit-picking everything and being condescending–“I could’ve found his for cheaper, but I won’t expect you to price-match it,” and “I don’t expect to have to pay for that, of course…”–that kind of thing (also not respectable).

The bottom line is that it’s beginning to look a lot like this guy is trying to be so difficult that we just give him everything for free to keep him as a customer.

Is this really the best approach?  I myself am a fan of the quote, “The customer may, in fact, be ‘always right’…but I get to decide when they are no longer the customer.”  I saw this on a sign for the first time behind a bar at my local watering hole in Arizona.

If it were my shop, I’d have told my guys to button up his airplane and send him on his way.  I might be naive here, but a customer who is never satisfied is not one I want to depend on to further my reputation because you will only make them happy to the deficit of the company–if you make them happy at all.

Is it better to take a loss on this guy and hope he says nice things to others about the service, or cut him loose and maintain extra vigilance over the personal and online reputation management that you should be engaged in anyway?

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  1. If the guy is blatantly abusive every time he comes in, and doesn’t mind doing it in front of other customers I would simply thank him for the opportunity to serve him, and inform him that unfortunately, I don’t think we can live up to his expectations and he would probably be better served at another shop.

    That said, it depends. Is this the way the guy has always acted? Are we able to “talk him down” when he acts this way, and then he ends up being happy? How many other projects has the shop done for him? What is our typical profit margin? Does he have potential for future business? Is he influential in terms of referring more business to the shop? Those are all things I would weigh before making a decision to send him down the road. Ah the joys of management.

    Many times a customer is not handled correctly simply because the salesperson or management has not communicated what the terms of the relationship will be, so the customers expectations are out of line (Mr. Customer, here is our checklist of the condition of the aircraft when you brought it in, please sign here BEFORE you leave it with us). Many times, these potential problems can be overcome with good systems.

    I find that good common sense fairness is the best way to approach the “I should get it for free” guy. Yes, we screwed it up, and we will fix it, but it is not free or discounted. It is only discounted or free if I don’t give you what I said I would, or if I caused you direct monetary loss.

    The customer is NOT always right, but he must be allowed to think he is.

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