• Fri, 10, May, 2019 - 5:00:AM

Actually, the customer is NOT always right

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. The customer is always right.

What a crock of shit. We all love an idiom, but an apple ain’t gonna save you breaking your leg, all jobs require work, and above all else, the customer can be DEAD FUCKING WRONG.  

Unfortunately, it’s that last one we’ve most readily swallowed as a society. Something happens when a person’s presence is contingent on their being paid. Suddenly they aren’t quite a person anymore. Suddenly they’re a servant. (Applies tenfold if the person is a woman. Hundredfold if she’s anything other than white.)

As someone who’s worked in and around the retail world for years, I hate the saying. I hate how it permeates the workplace. I hate how you can see it on people’s faces. It’s there in the pursed lips. It’s there in the tapping fingers. It’s there in the threats to ‘contact Fair Go’. (Like, okay Karen, I’m sure Pippa’s dying to hear about how you had to wait five minutes.)

It’s more than an idiom, really – it’s a philosophy. And a terrible one at that. Here’s why.

It prioritises dicks

The ‘The Customer is Always Right Theory’ (TCIART, if you will – and yes, I’ve made that up) implies that dicks can demand anything. They’re right by definition, yes? TCIART imagines that retailers are so desperate for the customer’s purchase, they SHOULD and in fact WILL tolerate all manner of bad behaviour.

This is abusive.

Seriously – think of it in terms of a romantic relationship: one person has all the power (a credit card) and so the other person’s gotta bend to their every whim. If it was happening to your bestie’s relationship, you’d urge them to get out. (But when it happens in your bestie’s nine-to-five, you sigh and commiserate over drinks.)

Worst of all, TCIART encourages this abuse. If a customer believes they’ll receive better service by throwing a tantrum – they will. So why are we allowing this? Shouldn’t the kind and considerate customers receive better service than the dicks? It’s reminiscent of the ‘treat ‘em mean keep ‘em keen’ theory that dickhead dudes think will get them laid.

It makes workers sad

The worst part of the acronym is the ‘A’ – the always. It’s final and depressing. If the customer is always right, that means the worker is always wrong.

And that’s not how the world works.

Don’t get me wrong in all this – there will certainly be times when the customer IS right. But there will also plenty – and I mean PLENTY – of times when the worker is.

So here’s a message for managers (bosses, supervisors, owners): SIDE WITH YOUR EMPLOYEES.

At least side with your employees in the first instance. When workers aren’t walking on eggshells, just waiting to be told off, they work better. TCIART fosters resentment and apathy. Trusting your employees fosters loyalty and empowerment. And when workers feel empowered – get this – they work better!

It’s time for a new philosophy in the workplace. I’m calling it the Be A Good Customer System (BAGCS). Under BAGCS you receive kindness when you exhibit kindness. Under BAGCS, abusive behaviour will result in your being shown to the door. Under BAGCS, low-wage workers are believed and empowered. Working in retail (and hospitality, and customer service) is often described as a nightmare. And for good reason.

Well, to hell with that. I’m calling time.


  • Workers /
  • Capitalism /
  • Fairness /
  • Jobs /
  • retail /
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