I’m going to say something that might sound a little controversial, but I’ll explain what I mean after I say it. I’m so tired of hearing the exact phrase repeated over and over again by every leader and employee in the customer service space: ‘The customer is always right.’
Now hear me out. Your customers should always be at the center of your customer service efforts, but I believe ‘the customer is always right’ is bad advice. I’m sure Harry Gordon Selfridge, the person who coined the phrase in 1909, had good intentions when he came up with it, but a century of misuse has tainted its meaning and turned it into a catalyst for sabotage for both employees and customers.
Leaders often use it as a mechanism that opens up their employees to verbal and emotional abuse from customers, and employees now associate this phrase with a toxic, unsupportive workplace. It also gives abrasive customers an unfair advantage over your business when let’s face it; the customer might not always be right. And all of this ends up having the opposite effect: subpar customer service.
There is nothing more critical to a company’s success than its customer service efforts, which is why we need to stop building our outreach on the back of ‘the customer is always right.’ For leaders who have relied on this model for far too long, I have a few suggestions for how to reexamine your customer service so that you can influence even stronger relationships between your customers and your employees/brand.
1. Don’t give your customers what they want. Give them what they need
Most brands think they know what their customers want, but this differs from what your customers actually need. Take my industry, for example. As a marketing executive at Spotify, it would make sense for me to surmise that my customers want an easy, affordable way to listen to any artist they want, whenever they want. While this isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s not what they need.
If we only made Spotify convenient and affordable with endless listening options and stopped there, we’d appease customers in the short term, but we’d eventually lose them to other music streaming platforms. Instead, our customers need a hyper-personalized listening experience — playlists and podcasts that are curated for every one of our users.
As a result, our customer service efforts bleed into our bigger company initiatives. We rely on innovations like machine learning, audio analysis, and artificial intelligence to hyper-personalize our features. Additionally, to meet the needs of all of our customers worldwide, we must also fulfill our dedication to a more inclusive organization. This has inspired global initiatives like Frequency, ensuring Black creators remain at the forefront of our platform.
Customer service must be more meaningful than throwing a few bones to your customers to keep them happy. Instead, it’s about transformative efforts that show customers you’re listening to their needs and how your business can continue to impact their lives in a significant way.
2. Create an ongoing dialogue
When some companies talk to their employees about customer service, they frame it as their ability to handle one-off inquiries in a positive, professional manner. Responsiveness is vital, especially on social media, but customer engagement shouldn’t be reactive; it should be proactive. This means opening up dialogue to build a community around your brand.
Our employees use our social media platforms, our message boards, and our website to engage with customers as much as possible, and we do it in our own signature style. It’s not only about ensuring we are accessible at all times to offer quick, helpful guidance to our customers; it’s also about individualizing our outreach. And one way we do this is by leveraging what we know: curated playlists. There was one instance, for example, where one of our customers gave us a kind review, and to thank them for their kind words, one of our team members created a playlist that they made just for them.
Does this take more effort on our end? Of course. But isn’t that the point? We rely on technology to help make our lives more convenient, and it does, but there are some instances where the human touch makes more sense than an automated message — like when talking to your customers. When we take a creative approach to our outreach efforts, we build a community rather than just responding to a customer when they want us to address a question or concern. And this is what turns people into loyal customers and then into brand ambassadors.
As a brand, you will be judged by your customer service. Stop punishing employees with the mantra that ‘the customer is always right’ because this serves no one in the end. Customer service isn’t as black and white as this. When we think of how we can meaningfully and intentionally do what’s best for our customers, we can drive the kind of customer engagement that keeps everyone happy.