The Myth of “The Customer Is Always Right”: Lessons from Walking a Dog

Feb 26, 2024 | Sales

In the ever-competitive world of sales, we often hear the mantra, “The customer is always right.” This lesson has been so deeply ingrained in the culture of customer service that questioning it almost seems like sacrilege. As someone who began their professional journey at Domino’s Pizza, I too was taught this principle. But like all maxims, this one deserves scrutiny.

My Early Lessons at Domino’s Pizza

Working at Domino’s, the focus was always on customer satisfaction. We aimed to serve not just a pizza, but an experience that would make customers want to return. My manager always emphasized, “The customer is always right.” The goal was to avoid conflicts, meet customer expectations, and thereby negate any bad reviews. While this philosophy served me well in many scenarios, I realized over the years that it has its limitations.

Why “The Customer Is Always Right” Breaks Down

The problem is that not all customers are looking for a fair exchange of value. Some customers exploit this one-sided approach, mistaking your kindness for weakness. When the “customer is always right” policy is applied without nuance, it can create an imbalance in the business relationship, affecting employee morale and creating an unsustainable business model.

Walking the Dog: A Metaphor for Customer Relationships

To better explain this, let’s consider an analogy involving walking a dog. Note, the customer is not a dog, but the dynamics of walking one offer valuable insights into maintaining a balanced business relationship.

Incorrect Way #1: Dragging the Dog

In this scenario, the dog walker is pulling the dog along, who clearly has no interest in going in that direction. This is analogous to taking the customer where we, the salespeople, want them to go rather than where they want to go. The end result? Unhappiness and exhaustion on both sides.

Incorrect Way #2: Letting the Dog Lead

Here, the dog is overly enthusiastic, pulling the walker towards its preferred destination. In a sales context, this is when we let the customer dictate the terms completely, believing that “the customer is always right.” Not only does this put the customer in the driver’s seat, but it also diminishes the value of our expertise.

Correct Way #3: A Balanced Partnership

In this ideal scenario, both the dog and the walker are moving in harmony, aiming for the same destination. This is what customer relationships should strive for—a balanced partnership where both parties benefit.

The Importance of Rational Partnerships

A partnership only works when both parties are rational and mentally stable. Sometimes you’ll encounter a customer who doesn’t fit this mold. And when that happens, the best strategy is to walk away. Ironically, letting such customers become the competition’s problem can be an effective, albeit sneaky, competitive tactic. The key takeaway? Your company’s positive culture and the well-being of your quality staff are more important than appeasing every single customer.

Conclusion: The Essence of Great Sales

The true essence of great sales lies in creating and maintaining positive long-term partnerships that provide value to both parties. This balanced approach may sometimes challenge the old adage that “the customer is always right,” but it leads to a more sustainable and mutually beneficial relationship. So the next time you find yourself in a challenging customer situation, remember the dog-walking analogy and strive for a balanced partnership.