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Is the Customer Always Right?

Recently, I made a restaurant booking through the booking app Dimmi, and I was surprised to see a note at the bottom of the page that read “failure to notify the restaurant, in advance, of booking changes may affect (my) ability to secure future bookings.” In other words, the restaurant has the right to blacklist me if I fail to turn up or change my booking. This got me thinking – is the customer always right?

With the growth of online services, consumer purchasing is increasing at a staggering rate, and in turn we, the consumers, are becoming more and more demanding. In our all-connected, “want it now” world, rating a service is now very easy. Remember when we had to resort to pen and paper to complete a questionnaire after staying in a hotel or eating in a restaurant? Those days are gone. Today, when we encounter poor service, our first reflex is that vengeful 2.0 pen we take in hand to leave a scathing review on Trip Advisor or Urbanspoon, to “inform the world” that this café or that holiday resort is clearly overrated. David Maister sums up this feeling in a very simple equation: satisfaction = perception – expectation. And when the perception of a service does not meet our expectation, we have the ability to complain about it.

Rating a service is nothing new and is a very important tool that every business should use. It is far more constructive for a vendor to learn about, acknowledge, and rectify any problems, rather than repeating the same mistakes. But what about the situation we are now seeing, where the company has the power to review the customer?

Reviews are now going both ways and companies are equipped with tools to rate consumers. This bilateral rating is becoming the norm for more and more service websites. On Airbnb, Uber or eBay, to name a few, the service providers have the ability, directly on the website or via an app, to rate the business transaction with their client. Even if they do not have a specific tool, they can use the power of social media: Twitter and Facebook can be very dangerous weapons, on both sides. A few weeks ago, a café in the Newcastle area of New South Wales triggered a huge buzz in the Australian media after posting on Facebook that they were not “child friendly”. A displeased customer had left a review complaining about the lack of courtesy towards her child who was misbehaving. The café owners decided to justify their position on Facebook, dividing the Australian café customers in two: the ones seeking the freedom of consuming in any café they chose, and the ones (supporting the café owners) who wanted a peaceful time while enjoying their coffee.

We have been hearing for years that the client is always right. This seemed appropriate and required as service providers endeavoured to satisfy their customers, but does it mean that a vendor should live and die by absolutely all the customer wishes? Certainly not. The relationship between a vendor and a customer should be well-balanced, with an equal amount of respect of rights and obligations in both directions. There is nothing new in a customer having the option of choosing a supplier, but now suppliers also have the option of choosing their customers. Surely this is healthy for the market.

Maybe, after years of an unbalanced leaning towards the customer, the pendulum is moving towards a market where supply and demand reach equilibrium.

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