The customer isn’t always right

Editorial Board

A high school student starts their new job at a fast food restaurant, blind to the daily tasks required working in the quick-service industry. Through their training, the young person learns all of their responsibilities as a cashier and begins their first day on the job without any assistance. Suddenly, an enraged customer stomps up to the worker, shouting that the restaurant forgot his burger and demanding food compensation for the mistake. Having nothing to do with the accident, the new worker becomes traumatized by the incident and vows to never work a job involving customer service again.

From working at a cash register to operating rides at amusement parks, many jobs come in contact with customers every day. As a result, the motto “the customer is always right” has been ingrained into the minds of every customer service employee. However, the motto has become redundant and more of a way just to maintain potential business, which triumphs over an employee’s well-being.

Although owners have a valid reason to try to make the customer feel content and entitled to their opinions, workers are faced with a no-win scenario. Workers must endure some of the harsh abuse given out by customers while trying to handle the situation in a way in which they will not be fired from their employment. 

Of course, there are times where workers are clearly at fault, but at other times, workers aren’t even the ones who made a mistake. For example, technology can fail and mess up online restaurant orders. Customers assume the restaurant workers are at fault for the mishap when technology is really to blame. Other times, another co-worker may be the cause. A simple misunderstanding and false accusation can escalate into a fierce debate.

An increase in aggression from customers can even propel an encounter into an avoidable physical altercation. For example, on June 23, 2020, a man in the United Kingdom wanted to leave a long drive-thru line for a fast-food restaurant. After receiving instructions that he disliked from an employee, the man threatened the employee by pulling out what seemed to be a real gun. Police found the gun to really be a BB gun, and the man pleaded guilty to possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear. Although a case as such is rare, employees are still faced with the risk of an event like this occurring each day they step foot into the workplace.

The customer can also be in the wrong by verbally harassing employees. Young employees working their first jobs can feel uncomfortable when older folk try to hit on or harass them. Any employee at any age can feel uncomfortable if someone tries to flirt with them in the workplace. With this motto of the customer always being right, some workers feel obligated to not report these incidents in fear of losing business and angering their employers.

Since workers must have the mentality of putting the customer first, customer service jobs can create an overflow of stress. Customer service jobs for internet service providers is one key example of this. As the world wide web takes over modern life, people feel strongly about their Wi-Fi. If a person’s Wi-Fi goes out and their service is not functioning properly, that person might be upset and call the customer service line of their provider. Oftentimes, these workers do not have immediate answers, as they are not at the customer’s house to inspect the problem. Over-the-phone communication can lead to more agitation and frustration from the customer, which the worker has to face. This ultimately leads to more stress on the job.

Disregarding customer confrontations for a moment, most people do not wake up excited to go to work in the morning. In fact, CNBC News shared data from an analytics firm, Viser, that stated one in four people quit their jobs in 2021. To simply put it, employee rates are extremely low and most places are understaffed. Customers feeling entitled that they are always right do not motivate people any further to go to work whatsoever. This is why being a compassionate, kindhearted customer can make an employee’s day. Mistakes happen, as employees are not perfect human beings. How a customer reacts to those mistakes can affect an employee’s mood for the rest of the day.

Even in situations where a mistake did not occur, polite customers can leave a worker with a warm feeling. This may be through tips or just a general compliment on their work ethic. Leaving a positive impression on a young employee in the workplace might motivate that young person to continue working hard to satisfy and assist every customer.

Overall, the motto “the customer is always right” has become outdated and incorrect in recent times by often putting the worker in a lose-lose, stressful situation. Employees may come in contact with physical and verbal abuse through tense customer confrontations. Workers should value the customer in some situations while putting themselves first in other situations to protect themselves from this potential abuse. Next time a customer decides to berate and attack an employee for a simple mistake, that customer should first put themself in the employee’s shoes and realize the decision that is about to be made.