Temi A: The Customer is Not Always Right


I have a somewhat diverse CV; and whilst I have not loved every single job I have undertaken, they have provided valuable opportunities to understand human interaction as it occurs in different positions and establishments. From colleges to law firms, voluntary organisations etc, there is a theme of underlying mutual respect. Tempers will flare occasionally; however, the notion of mutual respect prevailed in most cases. Majority of customers or service receivers did not think their money entitled them to anything but the service they paid for.


This concept of mutual respect gradually declines as you contemplate the relationship between the customer and “low wage” service providers – with shop keepers and wait staff touted as the biggest culprit in Team Forever Rude.
A friend recently came back from a visit to Nigeria and the only thing he had to put on his Facebook page soon after his return was how bad the customer service was. From Lagos to London, complaints abound as to customer service standards, and it seems as if unsatisfactory customer service is de rigueur.
I suspect that the reason for our discontent with customer service stems from the fact that the starting point for most transactions is “the customer is always right”. It is one of the most negative consequences of capitalism; the belief that spending money elevates a person to a position of immediate respect without the need for the money spender to give the same in return. It is certainly from the vantage point that a paying customer has the right to be treated with a certain level of respect and “fanfare” that the phrase ‘the customer is always right’ emanated. It is irrational and illogical to state that the customer is always right, outside of that context for all the common sense reasons involved. How far on the scale of “customer service” will £10 or £1,000 go then? How do we manage the money spender’s expectation of their own monetary worth and value? It is impossible to navigate or quantify this adequately, and I posit this might be one of the reasons for our dissatisfaction with service we receive. We begin our conversations with low wage service providers from our cocoon of monetary rightness and superiority, and that reflects in our conversation and attitude to service providers.
A relationship that commences with one party accruing more power due to their supposed monetary value reinforces the opinion that money and not people is what matters – a wholly capitalist belief that does not foster human connection or growth in any real sense.
We place the customers on a pedestal that the service providers must strive to accommodate with smiles regardless of the customer’s terrible attitude. Retail workers, waiters, cashiers e.t.c are human. To expect them to suspend their individuality and humanity between the hours of 9am- 5pm, or its equivalent, and always wear a smile no matter the ridiculousness they have to withstand from ill-mannered people is a ludicrous notion in itself.
By promoting this culture, we remove the responsibility of being better communicators, and being better people from the society at large and enable selfish, spoilt and entitled behaviour.
The provision of goods or services in whatever capacity is not equivalent to servility, yet some behave as if they have been eternally wronged when waiters, or store keepers do not show them the “due respect”, which they think they deserve, or give them “attitude”.
It is as if we conveniently forget that the responses we get from people usually mirrors our behaviour to them. There has been a lot of narrative about bad customer service providers, and not enough about us customers or the consumer mentality. If you find yourself saying “the customer is always right” 4 out of 7 days a week, then my darling, stop pursuing the rightness of your claim and work on yourself because you are the problem.
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