The power of the customer

In America, the customer is given much power– he or she is always right. You go to a restaurant and the waitstaff take pains to make sure you get exactly what you want. Stores here have good return policies, where you can return any purchase with which you weren’t entirely happy, and without having to give a reason as to why. Retailers know that if they accomodate you, you will be back soon and will purchase more products. The word “no” does not exist in customer service.

Americans have become accustomed to this, so when they go to other countries, they expect the same treatment.

We’ll take the restaurant industry in this exercise. What better way to explore customer relations than with man’s basic, primal need: food?

In the States, if you don’t see anything you like, or if you like something in particular that isn’t on the menu, you can ask the waiter for a more customized plate, as long as it’s reasonable (asking for a turkey burger is beyond the capability of In-and-Out, but if you want just two pieces of burger and cheese and nothing else, they can and will give that to you).

In other places, rules are more rigid. You go to a restaurant and if you ask for anything other than what is available in the menu, the answer is a resounding no. “No, sir, I’m sorry but I’m afraid the chef isn’t able to create a filet mignon covered in bacon.” If you try to further demand what you want, they will say, “No, not available here.” I’ve noticed customers take different actions– leave the restaurant, or simply choose something that is available.

Customer service in other areas
Customer service is the crowning glory of retail. Andrew Hsieh capitalized on this and led Zappos to growth and recognition. Marketers have acted on the psychology of customers, knowing that happy customers and more willing customers– willing to consider more options, buy more, and return back.

You go to a store and depending on foot traffic at that particular time of the day, retail associates are eager to get your business, especially for commission-based stores. How many times have you been consstantly followed by a sales associate, asking if there is anything they can help you with.

At the extreme, too much customer service results in more annoyed customers. Customers would see sales associates and turn the other way to shop in silence. They become distrustful of retail employees, even those who are genuinely willing to help, thinking they are only offering merchandise in order to sell instead of helping the customer pick what is of value or best for his or her needs. Some even leave the store and opt to shop online to avoid being sold more things that they need.

At the other end, when customers have too much power, it could also result in abuse. The other day, I went with my aunt to a discount store, and a customer wanted to return a set of 4 pairs of socks– or what used to be 4 pairs of socks– she demanded a full price return, even when one pair of socks had been missing. Since it’s a discount store, the cashier couldn’t determine if she purchased an incomplete set or if she lost one along the way. Is the customer still right in this case?

How much power should be given the customer?


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