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How to Deal With the Customer Who Isn't Right

The customer isn't always right. In some cases, they are just plain wrong. Here's what to do.
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A recent article I did on my blog created quite a stir. It's not very often that a corporate business owner refers to a customer as an 'idiot.' Now before you get yourself in a tizzy, please note that the example given is the extreme rarity, but it is so critical to understand in this day of social accountability and online marketing that sometimes we have to just jump over the fence and say it straight.

Remember, the customer is not always right. And, for the sake of your business and your sanity, you need to address a bad customer right away.

"The customer is always right" is a motto which exhorts service staff to give a high priority to customer satisfaction. The belief was popularized by pioneering retailers such as Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field. They advocated that customer complaints should be treated seriously so that they should not feel cheated or deceived. So what do we do when the customer is the one, in an online world, doing the cheating and deceiving?

Related: 3 Ways to Grow Your Business By Focusing on the Customer

To build a customer-centric company is a wise move financially. Everyone wins. But what do you do when the customer now has free tools online that he or she can use instantly to harass, devalue and discredit your brand simply because they are having a bad day? Or worse yet, a miserable life?

In my 18 years of running online businesses I've seen it all. It doesn't take too long before one realizes that every so often you will encounter someone who is a little too Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. They rant and rave, prowling around the internet to argue with someone. Some even create profiles with their only intention to harass someone -- a celebrity, brand or product. While most are annoying, some do demand FBI intervention. There are critical things to keep in mind that will help you have wisdom, discernment and in the long run, protect your sanity.

The customer may not always be right, but they are still the customer. Do all that you can to be customer centric. Focus on the customer's needs, the customer's position and the customer as a whole. This means that if one customer endangers many, be sure to protect the many. If the customer is behaving in a manner that would never be tolerated in a physical store, do anything you can to stop the behavior.

Related: The Winning Traits of Faith-Based Leaders

Here are three tips for dealing with a customer who isn't right.

Keep communications stoic, sparse and smile. Write emails the size of a tweet. Psychotic doesn't do well with 23 paragraphs back and forth. You'll end up talking like them if you go down that road. Be polite. Be prompt. Be powerful.

Don't react. These kind of customers live for reactions. You can tell by the long, long emails that go back and forth through your client care department and then the hemorrhaging all over Facebook and Twitter. Take your time. Respond. If you need advice, ask an attorney.

Keep your focus on the ball. Your other customers are where your focus is. I don't believe in obsessing about my competitors and I refuse to obsess about a client who in a regular brick-and-mortar environment would be escorted out by security. Serve well. Don't get distracted.

The social-media world gave everyone a voice but that doesn't mean that everyone who is using their voice is in their right mind, or has any sense of manners. Typically, the louder the voice and rant, it's likely they live a very small life and this is their only outlet. Be empathetic to that. Don't get caught in the drama and move on.

The customer is always the customer. They are not always right. Serving your customers is the highest honor you have as a corporation. Remember that the intent of the original "The customer is always right" statement was to protect consumers from illegitimate store owners and scams. Social transparency, doing a good Google search, getting to know people and watching how they interact with other customers tells us a lot about a company. One bad apple doesn't have to ruin the entire basket of fruit. I believe love and faith work in the workplace and this is just another example of why they do.

Related: Why Faith Belongs In Your Workplace