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I Stand Corrected!

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Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

When I wrote my “Top 20 Tips on Improving Your Customer Service” back in July, several of you took issue with Tip No. 21 (I knew I shouldn’t have gone over 20!), which was, “The customer is always right!”

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Personally, I like hearing different perspectives. On my way home from high school one day, I shook my head at someone passing by in a rusty clunker, and someone in my car pool said, “Hey, that might be all they can afford right now.” I had never thought of that.

Being a lifelong Clevelander, I tend to wear negativity like a comfortable cloak, due in part to our sports teams’ exasperating lack of success over the last 40 years. One time when I was bemoaning our lack of a championship, someone said, “Hey, you guys went to the World Series in ’95 and ’97.” You know, he was right. That was an achievement to be proud of.

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So, again…I like when people open my eyes to a different way. It tells me how far off course I might be. So when one of you wrote to tell me that “The customer is always right is so far from the truth that I can’t find words to explain it,” I was intrigued.

I told him to explain what he meant, and he said there is a “very delicate balance between customer service and being taken advantage of.” He went on to tell me that he feels the most important question is, “Is the customer right?” If the customer is indeed right, he said, then the business owner should do everything he or she possibly can to correct the situation.

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For the most part, however, he said that if he went by “The customer is always right,” he would soon be out of business. His shop is located in an affluent community where he says the customers are demanding, feel entitled and don’t respect quality. Their main concern is, “Is that your best price?”

“They’ll only stop when they’re stopped and interpret kindness as weakness,” he said.

I’ve only ever been a customer. Even though I feel like the last 12 years as a trade magazine editor has been like one neverending course in running a business, I’ve never actually owned a business. So I could sympathize with this person after reading his remarks. I’ve been behind those surly customers in line who feel the need to argue all day about a return. And usually they’re just trying to pull off a scam.

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Another reader wrote to tell me a story that set him straight on “the customer is always right” philosophy. While working for a U.S. paint manufacturer, he had a meeting with the principle of a dealership and the body shop manager, a highly regimented ex-Marine. At some point during the discussion, the body shop manager asked him if he had ever heard the saying, “The customer is always right.” He responded that yes, he had indeed heard it and in fact quoted it many times. The body shop manager then told him, “The customer is NOT always right but…the customer is always the customer!”

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“I actually subscribe to this philosophy now and use it all the time in those precarious situations that seem to develop more and more often in this economic landscape we currently live in,” he said.

So maybe the customer isn’t so squeaky clean after all. Come to think of it, I’ve heard from some bright business minds that it’s sometimes okay to fire certain customers. Sometimes they’re not worth the trouble. It seems after your feedback that you would agree.

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