Is the customer always right?

4 mins read

No, sometimes customers are rude, irrational or even dishonest.

Recently, I came across a YouTube video with a customer in America going off at the staff of a restaurant that serves foreign food because they put green peppers instead of red peppers at her take out. She was screaming that her kids don’t eat green “things”, the staff told her that the specific meal is made with green peppers, but they will make her a new one and it will take 15 minutes, but she continued yelling that she doesn’t have 15 minutes, get it right the first time, the customer is always right and kept hitting her hand on the counter. She turned to leave still going off and at her way out she slams her face into the door. That is KARMA!

Historical background

But first let’s see how the quote “The customer is always right” started. There is no conclusive evidence as to who said the phrase first but was popularized by pioneering and successful retailers such as Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field [1]. Selfridge founded the department store Selfridges in the U.K, in 1909. Wanamaker was the founder of the first department store in the United States and Marshall Field the founder of Marshall Field and Company, the Chicago-based department stores [2]. All these men were retailers known for their exceptional level of quality and customer service in their stores.


Even though were good intentions behind the phrase, to value the customers and provide them with an excellent service, it doesn’t take into consideration the fact that customers can be unethical or have unreasonable demands. Those are the customers that lie and shout in your face in order to get what they want. The phrase “The customer is always right” makes them feel that they have the right to look down on employees, insult them, making a scene and at the end threat with a bad review forcing you to bend the company’s policy. But let us think that for second…

What we really do is to reward their bad behavior which will lead to repetition. We reinforce the wrong behavior. So, do we really want this kind of customer? The customer that will bring more problems in our business? We should value the customers, but we also have to value our employees. Back them up. Choose your employee over an unreasonable customer. The manager should step in and take action and show them the door if he/she has to, but the employer should allow them to do so.

Happy employees will provide better service. They will be more willing to go above and beyond the call of duty.

I’m not saying to “fire” every customer that is impolite or disrespectful but there are customers who will never be satisfied no matter what. The key is to determine who you should keep. Think about the cost or time it will take to meet his/her demand, is it worth it? If the answer is no, focus on using your time and resources for your good customers and attracting new ones.


[1] Blake, Morgan “A global view of the customer is always right” Forbes. 24 Sep. 2018

[2] Martin, Garry “The customer is always right” The phrase finder.



Anna-Maria Papagiannaki has a bachelor degree in Psychology from the American College of Greece, Deree and Master of Business Administration (MBA) focused in General Management from DeVry University. She has over 15 years of experience working in Retail Industry as General Manager.