Is the customer always right?

When I was fourteen I had a Saturday job working at my uncle’s chemist shop in the middle of the town of Halesowen. There was a plaque on the wall in the dispensary which stated,

‘The customer is always right’
(Often confused and misguided, but always right)

I suppose it would be true to say that as a young teenager back in the early seventies I didn’t really understand the concise message this little gem of wisdom was attempting to convey, and the same could probably be said for my older, wiser and much more experienced fellow workers.
But why I hear you ask?
Because in general, the British public never used to complain, well……..rarely complained.
Back then this sign was just a parody, a bit of fun (at the customer’s expense of course) but no one really took these wise words too seriously, least of all the customer.
If any punter actually managed to drum up sufficient courage to stutter an objection about some wrongdoing carried out against them, then more often than not the protest would quickly fizzle out and turn into a humble apology from the very same person who ‘didn’t wish to be a nuisance or cause any trouble’.

I have a clear memory of an event that occurred many years ago when my two older brothers and I were dining out with our parents. We were at a Chinese restaurant in Birmingham, a place we would go to as a family maybe once a month to mark something ‘special’ and on this particular occasion we were celebrating my Father’s birthday. Laughter and merriment were the order of the day and everyone was understandably happy.
The starter platter with a heaped mixture of spring rolls, prawn toast and spare ribs kicked off proceeding, and for a while things went quiet, except for the sound of chomping, as everyone busied themselves to the task of eating their share before someone else with an insatiable appetite pinched it all.
During the chicken and sweet corn soup phase things relaxed a little as each person now had their own portion delivered in individual bowls, so the jovial chatter intensified and the mood became buoyant.
When the time came for the main course one element of the meal (the chicken chop suey I think) wasn’t delivered to the table at the same time as the rest of the many flavoursome dishes, an oversight which we as a family also failed to noticed as we were too busy shovelling as much onto our own plates as possible before a certain older brother snaffled the lot.
So when the missing delicacy finally arrived most of the lavish banquet had already been scoffed, with only a few grains of fried rice and a handful of disliked and discarded green peppers remaining. This, in my Mother’s opinion, was totally unacceptable and she had wanted to call the waiter over to express her displeasure, but my father wouldn’t let her.
“Please don’t make a fuss,” he’d said.
“But we can’t eat it on its own and it’s spoilt the evening now,” Mom had replied, “I’m sure if we forgot to put out the sandwiches or cakes at a wedding reception there would be all hell to pay.”
I must explain at this point that my parents ran a retail catering business specialising in home-made cakes and savouries, which they produced in large amounts as they catered for many different outside functions.
“Why has the late arrival of one dish ruined the entire meal?” my father asked her, “Until the waiter bought it over just now we didn’t even realise it was missing and yet we were still having such a great time.”
“But it’s the principle,” Mom protested.
“Well there was plenty to eat and I don’t think it’s fair to be unkind to the waiter just to make an issue of one small mistake, it might not even have been his fault. Everything else was fine so please……..let’s just leave it at that.”

Normally my father was quite a brusque man, but on this occasion he took the time to consider the feelings of someone whose sole purpose in his job was to ensure we were having an enjoyable evening, and the truth was in all but a small issue he had succeeded. That single demonstration of my Dad’s thoughtful attitude towards another person was probably the main influence on the way I now react when things don’t go quite to plan and for me clearly demonstrates how attitudes have drastically changed over the years.

And I get to thinking……………………
Nowadays there is an ever increasing culture of complaining and mainly it’s about trivial matters. There is too much consideration of self and rarely a thought for the feelings of others, we are becoming a very egocentric society (if we’re not there already)
Let me give an example.
We’re currently staying in a hotel on the west coast of Kintyre. It is an incredible location with stunning sea views and large and clean comfy rooms. There is a good choice at breakfast and the food here is generally well cooked. It has a nice bar, not too noisy, reasonable prices and the staff are friendly and helpful. Now it’s fair to say they’ve had a few problems with the boiler and for several hours each day there has been no hot water supply to the bedrooms. So far there has been plenty of hot water in the mornings and again in the evenings, but nothing in between.
Yes, it’s been an inconvenience, but I would consider it a minor irritation rather than a major catastrophe and it hasn’t detracted from the many positive attributes of this venue.
However it would appear that we are in a minority, and to our knowledge at least three couples have created a few new mountains out of molehills.
One lady stood in reception and flatly refused to pay for her room as the lack of hot water was a complete travesty and had completely ruined her stay (wow, talk about spreading it thickly
Yet she had still taken advantage of the room, slept in the comfy warm bed and, I assume, partaken of the refreshments provided therein.
The manager had offered multiple apologises and agreed to her demands, without a single quibble. The lady obviously wasn’t listening to him because she kept going, her only intent was to have a damn good whinge, why? because she could and he wasn’t going to argue back.
Amazingly the drama didn’t stop there as the lady, and her partner, headed straight to the dining room to order a full Scottish breakfast each, and then proceeded to empty the buffet table of most of the fresh fruit………..Priceless……….literally priceless.
Now I’m not saying that she didn’t have a case for some form of compensation for the inconvenience she had experienced, but I do think she demonstrated a totally selfish attitude with no consideration for the consequences of her demands.
Ultimately she and her partner cost the hotel money to accommodate and feed them and the manager will probably get some backlash from the owners as to why takings are down. (It may even affect his position in some way or even cost someone their job)
Unfortunately, in the hospitality industry the die is so heavily weighted in favour of the client because of the massive influence of the availability of online reviews and owners are somewhat forced to kowtow to even the most unreasonable demands (but that’s a topic for another day)

There can be no doubt that over the years the British have learnt to complain, but for me there is a vast cavern of unacceptability surrounding the majority of the trivial things folk constantly whine about. If there is a genuine reason to complain then do so but if a small issue occurs then maybe we should consider accepting that sometimes mistakes happen, after all we are human and we all make mistakes.
We should at least be honest and not dramatise the situation just to get our own way…………………or our money back.

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3 responses

  1. I recently work as a delivery driver and have heard from many people that have worked first hand with the public horrifying and sometimes humiliating stories of customers they have dealt with. I like your story of your dad and I agree I fear most people are getting more selfish and forget or simply don’t care how their hostile attitudes over small things can very negatively impact people. Sorry to bother you, just saw this post and it rang very true to me.

    1. It was no bother at all, just glad you liked it 🙂

      1. Yeah I think that nearly everyone should work in customer service at some point or another just get a perspective on things.

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