Today’s Customer Is Wrong – But It’s Not Their Fault

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The phrase “The Customer Is Always Right” is a cliché of modern business.

It was popularised back in the early days of modern retailing, by department store tycoon Harry Selfridge (founder of the department store, Selfridges – and subject of the character played by Jeremy Piven in the television show, Mr. Selfridge).

Back in the day, it was a novel concept.

It set these giants of retail apart from the more grim face of their high street competitors, where the customer was treated with far more suspicion than they are today. Goods were typically not on ready display, able to be touched and examined by customers.

And consumer protections around faults and mistakes were non-existent – with the legal principle of “Caveat Emptor” (buyer beware), reigning supreme – meaning misrepresentation among retailers was rife.

The theory was simple – make sure the customer never feels cheated or deceived.

In a climate of mistrust, this idea was hugely influential for the department store magnates – helping them to establish trust, gain market share, and build the huge retail empires that carried their names for over 100 years.

But today, things are different.

The idea of treating the customer with respect – and ensuring they never feel cheated or deceived – is not novel or unique.

So the maxim “The Customer Is Always Right” has come to mean we should give customers what they want – and cater to their every whim.

In many ways, we’ve taken this idea too far.

So what we’ve ended up with is infinite complexity in what we sell – with product lists as long as the burger bar menu in a greasy takeaway store, or a promise to serve the customer whatever bespoke desire they have.

Instead of selling a great burgers, we end up selling dairy-free soy cheese cheeseburger in a lettuce shell instead of the bun, with bacon and pineapple, hold the beetroot, add extra pickle, and with ketchup and mustard on the side – and wall-sized menus of options, additions and variations for our customers to choose from.

The irony of this kind of service is that customers may THINK they want it.

But the way they ACT and FEEL about it tell a very different story.

The truth is we might THINK we want more choice – and we’re attracted by the opportunities that choice presents…

…But we are less likely to ACT on an abundance of choice – and less likely to FEEL happy about our decisions.

So catering to customers’ every whim – and providing infinite levels of bespoke choices – is probably NOT serving your customers… Even if it’s what they’re asking for.

So if your goal is to make it easier for customers to buy, leave customers feeling more satisfied after buying from you, and make more sales for yourself along the way – then perhaps offering fewer choices is a better idea.


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