Norton: The customer is not always right, but the customer is still the customer (column) | VailDaily.com

Norton: The customer is not always right, but the customer is still the customer (column)

Michael Norton
Valley Voices

There is a very common saying in business: "The customer is always right." It may be very common, but it is not always true. What is true is this: "The customer is not always right, but the customer is still the customer."

And that means that the customer should be treated with appreciation and respect. The other side of this is that the customer should also value and treat the representatives of the company with the same appreciation and respect. I find myself writing this column after witnessing what I would call outright disrespect by several "customers" over the past couple of weeks as they interacted with cashiers, sales people and customer service representatives. I mean, it was just rude and even one interaction was crude.

Have we become so entitled that we feel it is appropriate and acceptable to berate or minimize people who are trying to help us? Demeaning someone through verbal assaults, elevating tonality and even using body language as a weapon should have no place in our world. What I witnessed left me feeling embarrassed for the so-called "customer," and I felt horrible for the person on the receiving end.

I wish I could say that what I witnessed could be attributed to immaturity, although immaturity was a big part of it, but what I witnessed was from people who I would guess were well into their adult lives. And two of them were business executives who were taking out their frustrations on a person in their teens and maybe their early twenties. And what they were angry about seemed so trivial and yet there they stood coming down on these poor company representatives who were really just trying to help.

As I stood in line behind one these business professional "customers" shouting like a spoiled child, I couldn't stand it any longer. I am not looking for a pat on the back or any recognition, but I share with you what I did next because I think at some point it is incumbent on all of us to hold each other accountable for proper and courteous behavior.

As the "customer" launched one more four-letter-ridden expletive assault, I stepped in and tried to be the voice of reason. In Proverbs, we read where "a gentle answer turns away wrath." So as gently as I could, I said, "Excuse me, but I happen to fly this airline almost every week, and I can assure you that this wonderful women is not trying to intentionally ruin your trip. As a matter of fact, since I have been standing here, she has gone above and beyond to try and satisfy your requests."

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The "customer" tried to stop me and cut me off, but I firmly and politely continued with this, "And I am sure that when you walk away from here in a few minutes, you will probably realize that she is really here to help you, help me and help all of these people lined up behind us. So, please, if you can't show her the respect she deserves, can you please show all of us a little respect, as we are also trying to fly today?"

He stood there for a moment, looked at the line behind us, gave me a scowl, took his middle seat ticket and moved on. The beautiful and ironic part of this story is that I was on his flight, my upgrade had come through, and I was seated in first class as he walked by.

On another occasion this week, I was listening in to a sales call to help provide some coaching and guidance after the call. The sales person was doing a fantastic job, and the potential customer could not have been ruder. It was terrible; this sales process had been going on for months, and this was the final presentation.

After the call, the sales person asked me what I thought, and I told him that if I were him, I would fire the prospect and not try and win that business. If the potential customer was going to treat him this way before becoming a customer, then it was only going to get worse once he was a customer.

I know it's so easy to get frustrated and upset, but I believe we can be better than that, especially when it comes to our public display and interactions with others. We are people dealing with people and, yes, it brings about very interesting dynamics, and this just means we need to focus on our own self-control, positive attitude, appreciation and respect.

So how about you? Do you strive for calm and cool in the face of frustrating situations, or did you also need this reminder about courtesy and respect for others? Either way, I would love to hear your story at gotonorton@gmail.com, and when we can remember that a gentle answer turns away wrath, it really will be a better-than-good week.

Michael Norton is the president of the Zig Ziglar Corporate Training Solutions Team, a strategic consultant, business and personal coach and motivational speaker. He writes a weekly motivational column for the Vail Daily.