Date
20 June 2018
Customer service representatives handle complaints and inquiries at a bank's call center in Britain. While most companies value their customers, they also  give much importance to staff morale and brand equity. Photo: Bloomberg
Customer service representatives handle complaints and inquiries at a bank's call center in Britain. While most companies value their customers, they also give much importance to staff morale and brand equity. Photo: Bloomberg

The customer is not always right

“The customer is always right” is a slogan that was popularized by Marshall Field, the American founder of department stores. It became a widely accepted business policy in the ’70s, when chain stores and restaurants began to replace mom-and-pop establishments, and multinational corporations started dominating the business world.

But in a recent incident, the concept didn’t seem to apply. A customer filed a complaint against a local mobile carrier and posted his unhappy experience on Facebook. His post went viral but he didn’t get the sympathy he was seeking. Instead, most netizens sided with the phone company.

What happened was that the phone company did a thorough investigation and found that the customer wasn’t exactly right.

According to the complainant, he called the customer service hotline of the telecoms operator, but was not given adequate assistance. He later wrote an email to the company’s managing director to complain about it.

The phone company reviewed the conversation between the customer and the customer service employee, which had been recorded, and then replied through an email, saying that they decided to end the service contract with the customer because the recording of the phone conversation revealed that the customer had ridiculed the employee and used offensive language.

“We value our customers, but we also value our employees,” the company said.

Although “the customer is always right” used to be a widely accepted service standard, some customers have been abusing the policy and have become unreasonable in their demands and expectations.

Companies who care about staff morale and brand equity do not necessarily want this type of customers.

The incident also indicates a shift in the public’s understanding of the concept.

Hong Kong’s economy relies heavily on the tertiary industry, with over 60 percent of employees working in all sorts of retail and service companies. That means most customers are also serving others when at work.

Therefore, they can easily feel sympathy for those who are at the receiving end of bad customer behavior.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 21

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/CG

Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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