Customer isn’t always right and doesn’t really matter

Published 6:59 pm Tuesday, July 23, 2019

By Rich Manieri

“The customer is always right.”

Not any more he isn’t. See if this sounds familiar.

I get an email from someone who works for a title company about signing papers for a closing on a house. The only part of the email that matters here is the end: “If you have any questions, please call or email.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I take such offers literally. I had a question. So, I emailed back.

In response, she partially answered my question but ended the email with, “Just read the email I sent you, please.”

That doesn’t sound like someone who really wants to answer my questions. What she should have written back was, “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to try to find my number somewhere.”

Wait. I have another.

We’re getting bids from contractors to install a hardwood floor in a bedroom. The first contractor — I’ll call him Casper — came over and took measurements.

“Straightforward job,” he said. “I’ll have an estimate for you in a couple of days.”

Never heard from him. My wife called him.

“Yeah, my grandmother died a week ago and I just got back into town,” he said. “I promise I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”

And with that, he was gone. Out of our lives forever.

The second contractor — I’ll call him “Grumpy” — came to the house and explained, in excruciating detail for 90 minutes, how he would install our floor.

He was very direct, a little too direct.

“I see you have dogs. We’ll make a lot of noise so you’ll have to do something with them. Just figure it out.”

What we “figured out,” first and foremost, was that Grumpy was a jerk.

The primary indicator was that our eight-month-old Great Dane, Bosco, growled at this guy for the full 90 minutes.

And in a stunning, if not unprecedented turn of events, Grumpy fired us before we hired him.

After texting him later that evening that we were going to get one more estimate for the job before deciding, he replied at midnight, “I won’t work for you. Get someone else.”

Bosco knew.

The third contractor — let’s call him “Grumpier” — got the job by default. Granted, our standards weren’t very high at that point; he didn’t appear to be insane and he said he would do it. Though, in the annals of customer service, he made Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi” look like Sesame Street’s Mr. Hooper.

The bigger problem was he installed the wrong floor, or at least half of it.

When “Grumpier” got word from his sales rep he would have to start over, he didn’t take it well. And in yet another unprecedented turn of events, he proactively called my wife and yelled at her.

“What am I supposed to do with six boxes of flooring!?”

That sounds like a you problem. But, somehow, this was our fault.

My wife pointed out that Grumpier’s customer service left something to be desired.

“I do floors. I don’t deal with customers,” he shot back.

“If you own a small business, you deal with customers,” she said.

With that, he hung up on her.

This isn’t just me.

Businesses large and small lose $75 billion a year due to poor customer service, according to a 2018 article in Forbes, which cites a report that claims, “Brands are failing to create the positive, emotional experiences that drive customer loyalty.”

So, where is the love?

Whatever happened to, “The customer is always right, even if the customer is an idiot?”

True, some customers can be abrasive and even abusive. Others are just difficult.

I used to think about owning a bed and breakfast. But after staying at a few establishments around the country, the idea of making muffins and fluffing pillows for annoying strangers quickly lost its appeal. At least I had enough self-awareness to realize that, as an innkeeper, I’d make Basil Fawlty look magnanimous.

But minus the challenge of dealing with unreasonable people, politeness and helpfulness should the baseline of what customers should expect.

Syndicated columnist Christine Flowers, in a piece last year about her encounter with a hostile barista, wrote that “we have been taken over by an inflexibility, an inability to empathize with other people and their needs.”

I fear she’s right and that inflexibility manifests itself in our politics, on our university campuses and in our relationships. Why wouldn’t it show up in our customer service?

If you disagree, don’t hesitate to email me.

My response will not be, “Just read the column, please.”

RICH MANIERI is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. His book, “We Burn on Friday: A Memoir of My Father and Me” is available at You can reach him at