The saying goes that the customer is always right, but this surely can’t always be true. Let’s take a closer look at the rights and wrongs of customer service in retail. 

Firstly, this adage, as coined by the original retail impresario Harry Selfridge, is based on the assumption every complaint be treated seriously. 

And few could argue the people whose cash keeps shops thriving and sales staff in rewarding employment should be left dissatisfied after raising an issue. 

If they’re entitled to better value or quality within the terms of the sale agreement, it’s their legal and ethical right to get it. 

Moreover, when being asked to offer a refund, a replacement product, a discount or even bonus items, telling the customer ‘no’ can cause immediate unhappiness and potentially destroy whatever loyalty might have existed. 

In this worst-case scenario, your business not only loses income – that could have added up to substantial sums over many years – but also gains a reputation, deserved or undeserved, for being unhelpful. 

This is especially true in our digitally connected age, where a retailer’s reputation is always a few clicks away from assassination by an army of keyboard warriors. 

On the face of it, it’s more prudent – and profitable – for everyone from sales assistants, customer service agents and the store manager to say yes on every occasion. 

So far, so logical but step away from the complimentary gift vouchers! There are, however, other important factors to consider. 

Ask yourself the following questions. Is the complaint genuine – did this poodle’s pullover actually come from your pet aisle? Does it meet the criteria set out in your company’s policies? Is it part of a suspicious pattern, such as being one more instance in a long series of unsubstantiated grievances from an individual? 

What some customers want is more – more than is being offered or more than has been originally agreed. In such cases, treating their opinions as being unquestionably right can adversely impact your costed business model and, ultimately, the company’s bottom line. It could also leave the door wide open for further abuses of your charitable nature. 

For this reason, every complaint deserves examination. And, if there’s a valid reason the customer is wrong, a different approach can be taken say no and be politely, fully, assertively transparent about why. 

If the customer is unconvinced, or even entirely unimpressed, explain in more detail the company policies, consumer rights and regulations and why it’s important to recognise the rules to be fair to everyone. 

Remember, too, that in every case the issue is ultimately more than about being right and wrong – it’s about how your customer feels. So, focus on this. 

Can you make the customer happy other than complying with their precise demands by offering alternative solutions, while still sticking to the rules? Feel free to be creative with your suggestions! 

Of course, it may be the customer simply needs to voice their opinion and believe they’re being listened to. Your patience, empathy and reasoned responses may give them everything they want. 

If your own customer care intuition is always right, why not say yes to the career opportunities in retail available through