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Customer Service and The Cost of Being Right

David Bowman
David Bowman
BY: David Bowman ON January 3, 2012

We love to be right.  Whether having the correct answer to a question or knowing the shortest way to get across town, it feels good to be right.  We tell our kids to do the right thing.  We encourage employees to do things the right way.  We even go so far as to sometimes fight with others we care about just to prove that we are right.  The desire to be right is a natural part of being human.  It is also something that can create big problems for your business.  Sometimes being right is actually wrong.

When a customer is upset because a product failed to deliver the perceived benefits, an unexpected charge appeared on an invoice, or a service fell short of expectations, businesses typically respond by stating why the the company is right and the customer is wrong.  In pursuit of being right, customer service reps fall back on cold, factual statements like “Well, you signed the contract,” “That is against our formal policy,” and “You just didn’t understand what we were saying.”  However, if the customer feels you are being unfair or unreasonable, your policy manual is of little value to them.

No, the customer is not always technically right, but rarely does that matter.  The right decision for a business is typically the one that delivers the greatest long term return. In most situations the benefit of being right in an isolated transaction is far outweighed by the lifetime value of a happy customer.  Factor in the new power that a customer has to voice their displeasure with you to thousands of friends and strangers through social media channels, and it is clear that being right can be very costly.

Instead of focusing on being right at the expense of those you serve, view an unhappy customer as an opportunity for your business to grow – a chance to demonstrate good faith and build trust by investing a little extra effort in showing the customer that they are valued.  Focus on defining the problem as they see it, and then work together to solve it.  While this may seem like common sense, it is rarely common practice.  Be willing to sacrifice the instant gratification that comes from being right in exchange for the lifetime value of a loyal customer.

This post was inspired by a recent personal experience in which I was the customer.  I was informed that my objection to an unexpected service charge was wrong, and that I was required to pay for something that I still believe provided me no value.  Technically, they were right.  Personally, I don’t believe they were fair.  I chose to pay them and will never do business with them again.  So, let’s do the math on their decision to be right over fair.  I conservatively estimate that the service provider, who shall remain nameless to protect the clueless, sacrificed approximately $5,000 in revenue over the next three years in exchange for $90.00 today.  Their decision to choose being right over being fair and reasonable cost them $4,910.00 in direct business and likely thousands more in referral business.  To them I offer my congratulations on being right.  I hope it felt great, because it was an expensive decision.  

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