The Customer is always right?

These words came back to haunt me this week, I had visited a customer to fix a machine and needed to order parts.

The fault in the system could have been in one of two places and with this particular piece of machinery there is no way to tell which it might be, so I ordered both, to be on the safe side and to reduce the client's downtime.

The call disappeared from my PDA and I expect it back as soon as both the parts are despatched.  I am quite sure that I explained the situation to the customer in as unambiguous way as possible.

The next day I got a panic call from head office:

"The customer is kicking off, when are you getting back there?"

"As soon as the parts are there I'll get in there and do it."

"One of the bits is there, can you go now?"

It was 4.30 on a Friday afternoon, that's when the company stops paying me so I declined; besides, I was an hour's drive away. I explained the situation, the part that had arrived was the least likely of the two to fix the problem and I am constantly reminded not to make multiple trips to sites as road fuel is extremely expensive, about $2 per litre and I have already worn one car out in three years!

I was urged to call the customer and tell him what was happening.

When I called, he was incandescent with rage; "I was told that you would be here at 2.30 today!"

"Who told you that?"

"He didn't give his name, but it was the person I spoke to at 1.05, he said that you had acknowledged the call and entered an ETA of 14.30."

"That's rubbish; I don't even have the call to acknowledge.  I will have to find out who took that call."

"I didn't get his name."

"That's no problem, all our calls are recorded and we have a system called Witness that allows us to listen to any call related to job."

At this point the customer lost some of his aggression.  I have been bullied by customers before, they think that they can make delivery companies send parts quicker by putting pressure on me, it doesn't usually work and as I have to avoid stress, due to a mental condition, it tends to take a lot longer to deal with the bullies than people who are polite and reasonable.  I promised to look in on them on Monday and left him expostulating to a dead phone.

I have no doubt that either the call centre operative was reading from the wrong call log or said nothing of the kind.  I suspect that some loud-mouth decided that the best way to get some action was to pile on the pressure.  If I find this to be the case I will have words, I have done what I can and have no control over the delivery service that our company has elected to use.

I won't name them but I have to say that their global reputation does not match their actual performance in the field.

The machine will be running as soon as I can make it, not a second longer.

If I receive direct bullying I will walk, and the client can sort his own machine out.

Yes, he is the customer and yes the customer is the life blood of the business but my personal health ranks a little higher in importance that shareholder value for a Fortune 500 company.  If I go sick it will be long term and then nobody will get their equipment fixed in Dorset very quickly.


Customers always matter because earning customers' money is the ultimate goal of the business. But "the customer is always right", like any mantra or truism, is just a recommended starting assumption, not something that any reasonable person believes is *always*, *absolutely* true.


Learning how to deal with customers is a skill. It's like kicking a football. There are methods more likely to result in success, and there are methods that wont. Communications is a skill that can be taught or improved upon. However, having been a part of other threads in TR where the so-called 'soft skills' are seemingly considered beneath the contempt of many professional IT workers, it isn't a surprise that many lack the necessary tools to simply and easily handle such situations. Managing the client from anger and ignorance to enlightenment is both lots of fun and (often, in the long term) financially rewarding. Customer service is, no doubt, an area where stress and bad tempers go with the job. I would suggest that, if stress exacerbates an existing condition, then you need to learn and drill/practise some basic communications skills and (for want of a better word) complaint management techniques. The result will be far better stress management. Simple as that.


I agree with the customer being right, however, they are not ?always right?. I am certain there are plenty of technicians out there with similar stories, and we can start a mile-long discussion thread on this subject. Someone once told me that, ?an educated and degreed engineer can design a multi-million dollar aircraft? but you could never let them fly it?. Such is the case with my situation. In this case, the customer was in fact wrong. I had a programmer/developer who complained of computer problems. Come to find out, his hard drive was on its last leg. I pulled the drive and ?slaved? it in another PC, and attempted to pull data off of it using an industry standard recovery software. Although I managed to pull some off, the rest was just unrecognizable garbage. I used everything in my bag of tricks to try to save it. It was like an episode of ?geek ER?. I went back to the end-user (customer) the very next morning and informed him of the bad news. At this point, the six-foot tall Eastern European gentleman became irate, and stood over me, yelling, and almost poking his finger in my chest. However, what he was unaware of was, I spent six years in the military, so he was getting nowhere fast with me. I have dealt with bigger and meaner guys. I calmly, courteously, and professionally explained the situation, which made him even more irate. His solution? ?Why didn?t you just give me the drive, I could have recovered the data!!!?. Please refer back to my engineer analogy. I am sure he can write code like poetry, but I couldn?t trust his hardware abilities. I gave him the drive, and as you may have already guessed, he couldn?t recover anything. At this point, his department director/manager gets involved. It turns out this programmer had a 3GB backup tape drive built-in to his PC. His excuse for not using it was he had over 12GB of data to backup. Like stereo, his manager and I both asked, ?Why didn?t you just use several tapes?? Silence. His manager told me, ?Sorry for troubling you with this issue, I am sure you have other, more important things to take care of. I?ll handle it from here.? This guy smiled and said good morning to me everyday after this incident.

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