The Customer Is/Isn’t Always Right

The customer is/isn’t always right

The VP of Sonny’s CarWash College explains how to please customers regardless of whether they are right or wrong.

Have you ever heard this phrase before, “the customer is always right”?

Is it true? Is the customer always right?

While I always tried my best to please every customer back in my operating days, there were a few customers that I can testify were, indeed, not right. This leads me to my next point; we should never stop trying to understand and listen to our customers, but we can’t always please everyone, especially the customers with outrageous demands.

Some businesses though, have just stopped trying to do it right for the customer. Entire industries have just flat out given up on the customer service aspect and are strictly out to grab all they can, while they can, and alienate as many customers they can along the way.

Case in point, the airlines. Some only cater to their first class or top-tier frequent flyer groups; some have given up on all customer service, while some never even tried to begin with.

If you thought the airlines were bad pre-pandemic, give them a try now. Flying has become a game of roulette, with flight cancellations being the norm. Getting to your destination on time is now the exception.

In June, I recently spent close to three hours on a tarmac without air conditioning in Phoenix, only to be brought back to the gate to refuel, then told we’d board again in an hour. Our flight crew was now over their allotted hours, and we would have to wait for another crew to arrive only to have the flight cancelled an hour later. The gate agent told us she couldn’t help us to rebook and that we would have to go to customer service, which sent the other passengers into scramble mode. The customer service lines were severely long, so I decided to duck into the airline lounge to see if an agent could help. As luck would have it, there was an available agent when I walked in. However, that was the end of my good fortune. She told me the only way for me to get back to Fort Lauderdale was to take a red eye to Philly, spend close to 20 hours in the airport, then hop a red eye home, which would get me there Saturday morning. It was currently Thursday evening. I could have (not that I would have) driven the 34 hours from Phoenix to Fort Lauderdale and arrived at the same time.

The alternative was buying a seat on another airline. One of the discount carriers. One I swore I would never fly. They had seats available on a red eye Thursday night, but not to Fort Lauderdale. They were going to Orlando. I decided to give it a try. When I said earlier some airlines never even bothered to try when it came to customer service, this was one of them. Absolutely awful experience from buying the ticket, to the most uncomfortable seats in the aviation world, to the plane wasn’t catered so the only drink option was lukewarm water.  But, hey, they did get me closer to home, and that was our number one objective even if I was dehydrated upon landing.

There was still a three hour rental car ride ahead of me, but you get the idea. Poor customer service by the first airline compounded by poor customer service by the second airline. The first airline, however, pretends to care, but I honestly question if they do. If they don’t give the employees the tools to take care of the customer, does the airline really care?  The second airline doesn’t care, and they’re upfront about it. I guess I can respect their honesty in the, “I’d rather crawl through broken glass than ever fly your airline again” kind of way.

Let’s compare (or contrast as it may be) that experience with the one I had just the night before my travel saga at a local restaurant. It’s not a high dollar place; they sell hot dogs, burgers, steak sandwiches, etc.  

As we approach the counter, we are greeted by a smiling and friendly young man who welcomed us to the establishment. He asked if we had been there before and let us know he’d be happy to answer any questions we may have. After placing our order with him, he thanked us of our business, gave another toothy smile and told us our number would be called soon. As promised, our order number was called just a few minutes later. The food was excellent, the service was outstanding and the employees were exemplary.

Ask yourself, which one of these scenarios do customers experience while at your wash? Are they treated like the most valuable person on Earth or like the Earth beneath our feet?

“Few things generate more goodwill and repeat business than being effortless to deal with,” said Matt Wilkerson, CEO of Paragon.

I never met Matt Wilkerson, but I agree with him. I’d like to add to his quote though; being effortless to deal with takes effort on our part. The restaurant was effortless to deal with from the time I walked in until the time I walked out. Completely effortless. They made my visit feel personal and put in the effort to assure their employees treat their customers well. It shows.

Dealing with the airlines was a completely different experience. Nightmarish and belittling even.

Maybe the airlines know they can get away with it because there are so few options. As a result, we are forced to let them treat us this way.  Maybe the restaurant knows they can’t get away with it because there are so many alternative restaurants.

Whatever the case, making your business effortless to deal with should be the goal. The customer may not always be right, but by listening to them, treating them well and with respect, the disappointed customers will be few and far between.

All the best!


Bob Fox is the VP of Sonny’s CarWash College and has 37 years experience in the industry. You can reach Bob at [email protected]

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