Karin’s Leadership Articles

customer experience

What To Do When The Customer is Wrong

by | Jun 29, 2016 | By Karin Hurt, Customer Service |

The only problem with the concept, “The customer is always right,” is that sometimes they’re wrong.

If you’ve been in any kind of customer-facing position, I know you’re with me.

Sure, there are many, many circumstances where the only choice is to bite your tongue and concede, for the good of the customer experience.

But some wrong is just, well…wrong.

It takes confident humility to stand up to a customer when they’re doing something unethical, immoral, or discriminatory. Winning Well managers know that the MIT (most important thing) at a time like that is to stand clearly on the side of right.

Rick, the retired Amtrak conductor I met on my Southwest flight did just that.

When Employees are More Important Than Customers

My assistant conductor, Loretta came to me and said matter-of-factly, “There’s a guy in the second car, who refuses to give me his ticket.”

“Does he have a ticket?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure he does.”

“Why won’t he give it to you?” I continued, now sensing an undercurrent of hurt beneath her frustration, as the color drained from her dark skin.

“Well, I have a theory.”

“I’ll be right back.”

I approached the old, balding man, “Hi Sir, the other conductor said you refused to give her your ticket.”

He laughed, “Oh, I’m happy to give it YOU. I just won’t give it HER.”

“Well then, you have a problem. You see Loretta is the only one who takes the tickets. But since yours is the next stop. I’ll take it this time.”

“Oh no, I’m getting off in Albany.”

“No sir, you are getting off at the next stop. And if you refuse, I’ll be happy to make a phone call to get you some help getting off.”

I then held the train at the next stop and explained the situation to the agent at the ticket window. He could feel free to refund his money, but under no circumstances was he to sell the meanie a ticket.

Winning Well Karin Hurt and David DyeRick sent a clear message to Loretta, her peers and all the customers watching the spectacle. Loretta’s dignity is what mattered most. Bigotry, even from a paying customer, was completely unacceptable.

Rick was Winning Well.

When the customer is wrong. Say so.

Everyone is watching your next move.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

3 Comments

  1. zafarmanzoor

    Impressive story.When the customer / client is WRONG, it is better to tell him the truth (politely) and the consequences. A single “NO” is better than 10 “YES”.
    Zafarmanzoor, Sr. Executive, Pakistan.

    Reply
    • Karin Hurt

      Zafrmanzoor, So agree! Yes, there is real power in a fast no.

      Reply
  2. james mckey

    Wow, what an amazing and courageous act! Thanks for sharing. I will keep this in my back pocket for if I’m ever in a similar situation and have an opportunity to step up for a severely slighted peer.

    Reply

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