If you search online for “Is the customer always right?”, results show millions of people who think the concept is unobtainable and outdated. The phrase was created by the owner of a London store in 1909 to encompass above-and-beyond customer service.  If the concept is outdated, what are the rules now?

Squeaky Wheels and Un-bendable Rules

The truth is some consumers are just unreasonable. Some have made an art of being “the squeaky wheel” because it gets ‘results’ in the form of discounts, coupons, and other extras.

Knowing this, it’s still surprising when a brand makes the customer ‘wrong’ in a very public manner.

Last month, United made headlines because they wouldn’t allow two young female customers flying with a ‘companion ticket’ on board because they were wearing leggings. Their reason: a dress code, which many considered to be outdated given the immense popularity of leggings. This ‘out of touch’ policy and United’s un-bendable stance on the matter caused the incident to go viral on social media.

This month, United’s personnel physically dragged a passenger off a flight after the airline chose to accommodate crew members over paying passengers. The man had been ‘randomly selected’ to be bumped off the flight. He refused, citing he was a doctor who needed to see patients. The airlines handling of the situation left the public in shock.

The violent incident, captured on cell phone video, rapidly went viral.  Compounding the problem, United’s CEO initially blamed the victim for being disruptive, and defended his employees actions. He also did not apologize or accept responsibility for the incident until 2 days later… only after immense online backlash and falling stock prices.  Satirical and angry posts about the incident flew to the top trending topics on social media. Savage ‘new slogans’ for the airline were made into memes and spread like wildfire.

“Why beat your competitors when you can beat your customers?”

“We treat you like we treat your luggage!”

“Not enough seating? Prepare for a beating.”

“We said it was the SKIES that were friendly…”

All this… because United decided the customer was wrong, and they didn’t care how the situation affected other customers or their brand’s reputation.

You Need More Than Rules – Use ‘Common Sense’

According to United, their staff ‘followed United’s rules and FAA regulations’.  Customers hear “Blah, blah blah.”  This PR nightmare could have been minimized or avoided with updated policies, more generous incentives, compassionate, common-sense ‘customer service’, and better-trained staff.  Industry insiders and consumers agree that United’s already tarnished brand is now irrevocably damaged by this incident.

Why would any company risk the damage to their reputation… just to be ‘right’?

Times change, so your business’s rules about how it interacts with customers must change, too!  You may be the biggest producer of Widgets in America, with top notch advertising and a product everyone loves. But if you treat your customers poorly (in person or online), bad reviews about your brand will travel faster and last longer. Guaranteed.

Training your customer-facing personnel how to handle these situations is essential to protecting your reputation. Develop a plan of action to follow so you will be prepared to handle the situation quickly, correctly and respectfully.  This must include how to properly respond to poor reviews on social platforms. If your staff does not know what your customer service policies are for handling difficult or angry customers, you could suffer from the affects of  bad PR, too.