Contrary to Popular Belief, The Customer Isn't Always Right

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Ted Ings

Executive Director, CPI


By Ted Ings, Executive Director

In any type of retail business, whether it be automotive or fast food, employees are told the customer is always right.

Well, today, I’m here to tell you that simply isn’t true. There are many instances where a customer needs to be fired, just like a bad worker.

You can’t please everyone – let go of unreasonable customers

Even if you bend over backward, you can’t please everyone. Although customer satisfaction is the goal of any respectable dealership, sometimes it just isn’t possible – or profitable.

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The truth is, people are far more likely to recount bad experiences than good ones. When they feel slighted, they’re almost certain to speak up. Visit a complaint website, such as Consumer Affairs or the Better Business Bureau, and you’ll see countless examples of angry customers set into motion

There are instances where a customer must be fired to preserve the integrity of your business

Research suggests that people who are happy with their service experience will return in the future and refer up to 5 other people to you. But most customers who are unhappy will never come back, and they’ll tell up to 8 people not to do business with you. And that’s just the offline results – just think how many people get wind of a negative experience through online reviews.

What’s worse is that, when an unhappy customer comes back over and over again, they have multiple opportunities to spread unfavorable reviews.


While most people deserve a second, third and even fourth chance, those who are just miserable with life do not. Unreasonable and irrational individuals are the ones you want to cut loose.

Why you should let a problem customer go

In some cases, a customer becomes so difficult that you have no choice but to terminate them. That’s right – you need to let them go. Continuing to allow them to do business with you could result in the following problems:

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When, why and how you should drop a terrible customer

1. Your team’s attitude could be affected because they dread working with the customer or on their car.

2. You could lose more money by trying to appease the customer every time they come in. You could also waste a lot of valuable time on them.

3. Other customers will overhear the constant complaints by both the customer and your team.

4. The customer will continue to bad mouth you to other potential customers. This is advertising you don’t want or need.

How to perform a clean, professional break

Letting go of a customer isn’t easy. It takes tact, as outlined in the following case study:

A customer had taken every possible advantage of our service department and our personnel. She had verbally abused almost everyone over the phone and in one case she insisted we send a tow truck to fix an aftermarket alarm system that had locked her out of the car. Not only did we not install it, but she was 50 miles from our dealership at the time. So after she had the vehicle towed in, I invited her into my office:


“Mrs. Smith,” the service manager said, “It appears that regardless of the work we perform on your vehicle, we just can’t seem to make you happy. Also, considering how hard my people work to make our customers happy, I refuse to allow anyone to speak to them the way you’ve spoken to them. And since you are so unhappy with our service, I’d like you to take your vehicle someplace where you feel the service better meets your needs.”

There are a few key tactics the service manager used to extract Mrs. Smith from his department professionally.

1. He did not attack her personally by saying she was an atrocious customer who should never come back. Instead, he shouldered some of the blame (although it wasn’t his fault) by saying, “It appears that regardless of the work we perform on your vehicle, we just can’t seem to make you happy.”

2. He stood up for his employees. Any customer who berates your team needs to know that behavior is not acceptable.

3. He offered an alternative by suggesting she take her vehicle elsewhere.


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Another useful tactic for making a clean break includes apologizing (even if you have nothing to be sorry for). Something along the lines of, “Our team strives to make every customer happy, I’m sorry we couldn’t achieve that for you” relieves some of the guilt the customer is feeling and helps them stop being resentful.

Being appreciative also evokes a similar response from the customer. For example, the service manager could have started his conversation with, “We appreciate you trying our dealership, Mrs. Smith. But…”

Dealing with the aftermath

The final result of the Mrs. Smith ordeal was that, after recovering from the shock of being fired, she stormed out of the service manager’s office. And while she tried to create some trouble for them with the manufacturer, they brought a final resolution to the situation by buying her out of her car. It was nearly ten years old at the time, but in the long run, they all considered it to be one of the best investments they ever made.


As this example demonstrates, breakups can be painful. But in the long run, they’re worth it. Staying in a bad relationship does nothing but leave both parties wallowing in misery and sorrow.

So, next time you have an unreasonable customer, don’t be afraid to cut them loose.