The woman was flustered. She was upset. Angry even. I looked at her passively and took another deep breath. “We have never carried Dixie Belle Chalk Paint in this location”, I patiently explained. She blustered, eyes flaring in fury. “Yes you have! I bought it here in this very store last year!” She didn’t, but that hardly mattered to her. According to her, she was right, and I am an idiot. So no, actually, the customer is not always right. In fact they’re wrong more than they’re right!
I spend part of my days working in retail. I sell paint products to contractors and DIYers, but mostly I provide advice. But that advice is not always accepted by customers “in the know”. And by that I mean, “I saw it on HGTV and they did that deck reno in less than an hour. I think Mike Holmes knows more than you do!” There are definitely some days when I wonder why…
I didn’t always work in retail. Before kids, I had my own business. I also worked as a freelancer for many years. My hours were my own and I was in charge of my own marketing. I worked as much as I wanted, and enjoyed being my own boss.
A Change Of Lifestyle
But when Heather got pregnant with Zach, we decided to move to Vancouver Island and adjust our lifestyle. We wanted to live a less hectic work life so we could be all in for raising children. And that meant starting over as a business owner, or going to work for someone else. And frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to remarketing myself in a new location to hustle up new business. It felt like I would be starting my career over again at 45 years old! So I chose to get a job.
Within a week or so of moving to the Island, I had my first interview. At The Home Depot. “You Can Do It, We Can Help!” A week later, I was hired. My first retail job since I was 15, working weekends in a ski shop. I think I started at 11 bucks an hour. Yikes!
The Home Depot was the kind of retail environment that preached “customer service”. Management really bent over backwards to sell the idea that the customer came first. But I learned, in my first couple of months there, that the customer is not always right. We just had to pretend that they were…
Refining My Customer Service Skills
That was almost 18 years ago! Holy crap! But a lot has changed in those years. As I explained last year during a conversation with my old Home Depot manager, my customer service skills have become more refined. In other words, I don’t take much crap from annoying or abusive customers.
I no longer work at The Home Depot, but it doesn’t seem to matter what type of retail I’m in; customers are universal. Many are wonderful people I enjoy conversations with, and others are not. Sadly, it’s those few “special” customers that can really mess up your day. So with that in mind, I give you 4 good reasons why the customer is not always right.
1. Misguided DIY Expertise
Customers sometimes think they’re masters of all trades, thanks to a few YouTube tutorials or the plethora of DIY shows on television. Hilarity ensues when they try to explain the “right” way to do things, only to be proven wrong by the actual professionals. This happens more often than you might think. I’ve written about this previously, in Old Person Pet Peeves. Although it’s not specifically an old person pet peeve. I suspect it’s a pet peeve of just about everyone who works in Home Improvement retail.
2. “Telepathic” Expectations
Some customers believe that staff should be mind readers, fully anticipating their every need without any clear communication. It can be briefly amusing, then incredibly annoying, when they’re baffled by the fact that their thoughts aren’t broadcasted loud and clear. It’s a bit like the telepathy that exists between husband and wife. You know, the one the wife thinks exists, but it’s as real as the Easter Bunny.
3. The “Google said so” Argument
Customers who rely solely on a quick Google search for their information can end up sadly, yet hilariously, misinformed. Staff often have to debunk wild internet myths, like the idea that a microwave can recharge a smartphone battery. I knew that without looking it up on Google!
4. The Time Traveler Conundrum
Occasionally, customers will demand products or services that haven’t been available for years (or even decades). It’s always good for a chuckle when someone insists on purchasing an oil paint with lead in it, or getting upset because we no longer sell creosote. “Whadya mean it’s banned!? That sh*t’s great for wood!” Yep, right up there with asbestos drywall. “It’s Fireproof!”
5. The Phantom Purchase Paradox
This goes back to my introduction to this post. And it happens so many times a week! Some customers are convinced they bought a specific item at a store, even though it was never stocked there. These vexing cases of mistaken identity can lead to staff engaging in a lighthearted scavenger hunt for nonexistent products, only to conclude that the customer must be thinking of a different store altogether. So much fun!
This is how, in a retail worker’s fantasy, we deal with these kinds of customers.
Now this is all good for a little chuckle, but there’s also the rude customer who arrives in your store dragging a large chip on their shoulder. They woke up grumpy back around 2008, and their damned sure they’re going to make everyone else around them as miserable as they are. It is these special customers that I have no patience for, and I am pretty quick to let them know.
My kids are at the age when they’re getting jobs. Zach has been helping out in the lumber yard and driving a forklift at the local hardware store, and so he has regular customer interactions. And, for the most part, those interactions are good. There may be times though, either at this job, or when he’s working at another, that he has to deal with a rude or abusive customer. I don’t expect him to bow down submissively and grovel to that person. I expect him to stand up for himself and not accept bad behaviour.
Customer Service, Not Customer Servant
But this is a tough thing for a young worker to do. They may fear getting in trouble with their boss, and possibly getting fired. And while this is always a possibility, I would hope that the employer will listen to both sides before making that call.
In a busy retail environment, it is disheartening to observe instances of customers taking advantage of retail staff, treating them as if they were personal servants. This snooty attitude not only undermines the dignity and respect that every worker deserves but also creates a toxic atmosphere within the store. Unfortunately, this behaviour has become all too common, as some customers feel entitled to treat retail employees as subservient simply because they are there to provide a service.
This sense of entitlement often manifests in unreasonable demands, condescending tones, and a blatant disregard for the well-being of the employees. Retail workers are frequently subjected to customers who expect them to drop everything and attend to their needs, no matter how trivial or time-consuming. The notion that the customer is always right has been stretched to an extreme that excuses poor treatment of retail workers, who are simply trying to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
Stand Up For Yourself
And too often, it’s the younger staff that get it the most. For many, this may be their first job. What a great way to begin your working life; being treated like a servant! So for my children, the message is “Stand up for yourself, and don’t take crap.” Be kind, but stand your ground and get support if you’re faced with a difficult customer. Most businesses are pretty good at supporting their staff. If management isn’t willing to stand up for you, find another job. It’s just not worth the stress and humiliation.
Finally, if you’re “that customer”, give your head a shake and lighten up. The people helping you in that shop are just like you. And chances are, they have no control over the issue that may be bothering you. They’re just trying to get through the day, earn some money, and feel valued.
And if you’re the lady looking for Dixie Belle Chalk Paint, I suggest you do a little research. Because YOU DIDN’T BUY IT AT OUR STORE!
Thanks John! Livin’ the dream….