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The Customer is Always Wrong: How to Deal with The People Helping You

Updated on June 5, 2011


Before becoming an educator, I worked in customer service for 6 years off and on in high school and in college. Hardware stores, video stores, grocery stores; you name it: I worked there. Over those years I accumulated several thousand interactions with what I would deem: bad customers. These experiences have guided me on best practices when interacting with someone at a store or restaurant. The information I'm about to give you is invaluable for those trying to create a better experience when dealing with customer service representatives. Take my advice. If you want good service, follow these guidelines.

Wants vs. Needs

There is a huge difference between a want and a need, but customers don't seem to understand that. A want is a new watch. A need is water. A need is shelter. The difference being that you actually need some of those things, and the other stuff would just be enjoyable to have. Where am I going with this? Stop telling customer service representatives that you need something. You don't NEED it. You WANT it. I know it sounds like the smallest of details, but you would be amazed at the response you will get from someone if you address them just a bit differently. As someone that helped customers for a considerable amount of time, any customer that said need instead of want I immediately thought to be an idiot. If I'm annoyed by you and your stupidity, I'm more likely to give you poor service.

We Don't Know the Entire Store

Guess what, folks? We don't know everything about every product at our store. I know it sounds crazy, but I can't tell you how to install a type of flooring when I work in the plumbing department. Some superstores carry thousands of items, so don't be shocked or offended when we don't know where something's at or we can't explain a product to you.

Now, before you say, "Well, if it were my job I would know everything about this place. These people are just lazy," let me through this idea at you. Let's say that you work for a company that sells boxes. At this box company, you are in charge of marketing. Now, can you tell me everything about the accounting department? No? Can you tell me how the machines work that build the boxes? You can't? Why is that? You work there. Shouldn't you know everything about the box business? I think I've made my point.

If the person works in a particular department and they don't know about their specific area, then you can cry incompetence, but if they don't know about a product that's a quarter mile across the store, you should lay off with the rudeness.

Stop Calling Us

A personal pet peeve of mine (I'm sure others would agree though): calling a store for detailed information. If you call a store, it should be for something simple. Example: Is such-and-such item available? What time does your store close?

Examples of calls that are unacceptable: What kind of flooring do you have? Are there any sales going on right now? Can you tell me how much this would cost if my room is this big?

If you have a detailed question, come into the store to find the answer. Don't call me asking for the prices of 42 items. Get yourself to the store and look for yourself. I have plenty of customers that are actually in the store, and they're going to take priority over your stupid phone call.

The Customer is Always Wrong

I can't count the amount of times a customer would ask for a product that isn't held at our store, only to be told moments later by the customer that we had it last week. No we didn't. You're wrong. And you're always wrong.

The customer is always right might be the policy, but the truth is that you spend considerably less time in that location than the person helping you, and if they tell you something is out of stock or that the product isn't carried, they're right.

A perfect example: I cut carpet at a hardware store for three years. The width of our carpet rolls are 12 ft. This hasn't changed, nor was it ever any different, but I probably had three or four customers a week that wanted to argue with me about our store having rolls of 15 ft.

Trust your customer service representative. We know about our work, and if we don't, we're more than likely to let you know that we're unsure.

We're People Too

The worst mistake customers make is treating the people that are helping them as if they are some kind of lesser person. You don't know us personally. You don't know anything about us, yet you assume because we work at a grocery store or a hardware store that we are somehow inferior to you. DON'T DO THAT.

I was working my way through college for most of my customer service career. My IQ is well above the average, and I read for hours everyday, but customers would speak to me as if I quit school in the 5th grade. Do you understand how degrading that is? I may have been far more intelligent than the people I was helping, but I always treated them as equals, regardless of what I thought. If you want quality service, speaking to me like I'm an idiot is the best way to have me screw up your order on purpose. Treat the person as you would treat any other equal when you first meet them. If after dealing with them for a considerable amount of time you change your mind, that's more understandable, but your first reaction to me should be that I'm competent and that I'm going to give you the best quality service that I can.


The biggest issue that customers have is with yelling. Getting angry with me about whatever stupid and pointless item you are purchasing does two things. One, yelling makes you look like an ass, and two, it's only going to make your service worse.

If you have a legitimate gripe about someone that was helping you, speak with a supervisor and they will make the proper adjustments. Getting pissed off at me isn't going to fix the problem. And in many cases, it's going to make your day worse.

Example: You didn't want pickles on your burger. You yell at the waiter. He calmly takes your food away to replace it with the proper order. Before he comes back he makes sure to add a little snot to the mustard. Good call.

If you don't think things like that happen, you are naive. Don't yell at people that are trying to help you. You'll get better service if you're polite, and you won't have to worry about catching a disease while eating your bowl of chili.


There you have it folks. The people helping you just want to be treated as equals. Take this advice and heed these warnings. If you don't, the quality of your service will suffer, and in some cases, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a delicious snot burger.


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      mk 5 years ago

      Its a very good article. It helps me see the mistakes I have made as a customer. It also helps me relate to how my customer treats me. An eye-opener of what 'not-to-do' in a mature and righteous way.