When the Customer is Wrong

Most of us have grown up with the adage, “The customer is always right.” Well, if you’ve been in the real world for any time at all, you know that the customer is often wrong. They didn’t see the sign, read the directions, arrive on time, buy the right part, give the right specifications, etc, etc. Companies screw up often enough, but so do customers.

When I was working at Disney World, our philosophy was; “The guest may not always be right, but they will always be our guest.” A Disney colleague, Jim Cunningham, put it better when he said, “The guest may not always be right, but let’s allow them to be wrong with dignity.”

I love the way Jim put it. Letting the customer maintain his or her dignity in an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation is the sign of a professional. It’s easy to roll your eyes or somehow flaunt your knowledge or authority. But it’s a better business decision to ensure the customer’s dignity.

A favorite question most Disney cast members are asked is, “What time is the 3 o’clock parade?” On the surface, it seems like a ridiculous question and it might be tempting to let the guest know just how ridiculous the question is. But cast members know that the question-behind-the-question is, “What time does the 3 o’clock parade arrive here?” The parade route is a mile long and while it starts at 3 o’clock, it doesn’t arrive at some locations until 3:30.

The secret to maintaining the customer’s dignity is to understand the question-behind-the-question or the situation-behind-the-situation. When a customer asks a clearly costumed or uniformed employee, “Do you work here?” what he’s really asking is, “Can you help me?” When a customer enters the parking lot through the exit, he’s more than likely confused and not purposely breaking the rules.

Too many employees see such situations as an opportunity to belittle or ridicule. But those who handle the situation with compassion are the ones who see the big picture and generate customer loyalty. And they’re appreciated.

“The customer may not always be right, but let’s allow them to be wrong with dignity.”