100 Words On: Why the Customer Is (Almost) Always Right

Almost everyone has asked a restaurant, bank, or other business to redress a particular grievance. It’s debatable whether the titular idiom of this post should be credited to Marshall Field or Harry Gordon Selfridge, but it’s true nevertheless. Indeed, businesses that depend on returning customers typically bend over backwards to keep them satisfied. However, they also understandably draw the line when it comes to unreasonable, abusive and/or unethical patrons. After all, businesses can refuse service to anyone.

The bottom line: Even though the customer is always right — it doesn’t give us a license to take advantage of the businesses we patronize.

Photo Credit: Aitor Calero


  1. 1


    Great point there are some people who will complain just to get free food. For me if the service sucks and it is a service based business they are going to hear about it. If it is just Bleh and subpar I probably wont say anything.

    • 3

      Len Penzo says

      I used to work in a grocery store and you’d be surprised how many people would come to us and try to get refunds — sans receipts, of course — on things that my store didn’t even carry. After I’d point out that little inconvenient fact to them, they’d insist they bought it at our place anyway.

      That’s when we got to tell them to get lost. (With customers like that, who needs shoplifters?)

  2. 6


    When I worked retail in school, they told me that a (their) credit card customers were worth $10K to the store. They told us to treat them well and try to accommodate their requests. This was more than 40 years ago though, maybe things do change thanks to the unscrupulous customer.

  3. 8

    csdx says

    I think it really depends on the power dynamic. If the business needs the customer or vice versa, then one has power over the other and can act as such. Look at the telecoms, customers are locked into long term contracts with very few rights and an industy they’re often rated the low in customer satisfaction. Similarly airlines or power companies are organized to have power over the consumer and are the source of frequent complaints.

    • 9

      Chris says

      I agree, but if a phone company or airline company decides to step up their game they are often significantly recognized and therefore have a reason to continue giving great service. Just look at Southwest Airlines. If I need to travel (rare) I try my best to patronize Southwest because they really make that extra effort in the customer service department. Even if I end up paying $50-$100 more it’s worth it in the end!

    • 10

      Len Penzo says

      Agreed, csdx. The customer definitely has the upper hand with businesses that depend on repeat customers. But there are plenty of other businesses where the customer has a lot less leverage.

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