Are Clients Always Right?

Fortunately, this does not have to happen a lot. But as small business owners, we need to realize and accommodate the fact that sometimes things don’t always go our way with a client relationship. It is something that a lot of small business owners struggle handling.

Think of it this way. How many times have you had to grit your teeth, take a deep breath, and silently repeat to yourself, “The customer is always right?” This is a motto that’s drilled into anyone who has ever worked in the retail or hospitality industry. It somehow made its way into the psyches of all entrepreneurs and established business owners. The problem is, the customer isn’t always right. Yes, I said that. Always thinking otherwise can result in serious disservice to you, your employees, and your customers. Here’s why.

Limited resources

You only have limited resources available to you; don’t allocate a disproportionate amount of them to customers who repeatedly cause problems. You only have so much time, money, and energy to dedicate to customer service, or to your business, and an unreasonable customer or client can quickly eat away at the majority of it.

“Everyone is not your customer.” Seth Godin

If you’ve tried your best to address a complaint and the customer still isn’t happy, it’s time to move on from that customer. Use your limited resources to address the concerns of customers who are willing to engage in reasonable dialogue with you. When you focus on meeting the needs of your reasonable customers, you build loyal brand ambassadors. I’d rather have a bunch of these than throw all my resources at customers who are impossible to please.

Business owners should focus on the customers who matter most. Not all customers deserve your company’s best efforts. And despite what the old adage says, the customer is most definitely not always right. In the world of customer centricity, there are good customers and then there is everybody else.

The lesson here is to allocate the majority of your valuable resources to your good customers and stop trying to please everyone all the time.


If you’re lucky enough to have found employees who you trust and respect, don’t risk losing them by siding with the customer by default. When you tell your employees “the customer is always right”, you immediately position them against the customer – and the customer always wins. If you want to keep your employees happy and effective, back them up. Prove to them that you respect their judgment and opinions, and when faced with siding with your employee or an unreasonable customer, always choose your employee.

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your clients.” Richard Branson

Happy employees lead to the best possible customer service. Believing the customer is always right is a subconscious way of favouring the customer over the employee which can lead to resentment among employees. When managers put the employees first, the employees will then put the customers first. Put employees first and they will be happy at work.

Putting employees first may also lead to an increase in perceived control among employees. This increased control can have very concrete benefits. Workers with high levels of perceived control are not as likely to report high levels of conflict or interference between work and their family lives. The more control an employee feels over his own health and over things that happen to him at work, the less likely they are to report absences.

Money isn’t everything

We’ve all had customers or clients who have unrealistic expectations of what we can or should do to keep them happy. They demand – whether explicitly or implicitly – more of our time, energy, and resources than our other clients.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates

One of our clients told me a story about one of their client relationships. They ended up firing a large client because of a poor working relationship. They claimed that the troubled working relationship just wasn’t worth it. In their opinion, in the end, despite the the apparent happiness of the client and the success of the work they were doing, no amount of money made it worthwhile.

Don’t be afraid to cut ties with customers or clients who repeatedly make unrealistic demands or who consistently cause stress or friction. Rather than continually sacrificing your time, dignity, and emotional health, focus your efforts on actively pursuing new customers or clients who respect your time and boundaries.

The Bottomline

Just because your customers aren’t always right, doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. If you have a customer or client who is seemingly impossible to please, learn from them; this doesn’t mean you need to keep them as a customer, but ask yourself what you can do differently in the future to avoid a similar problem.

Finally, I’m not suggesting we simply give up on resolving conflict with customers. I’m saying this: Look at the bigger picture when dealing with consistently unreasonable customers or clients. Look at what’s really important and ask yourself if repeatedly attempting to please an unpleasable customer is really the best business decision. Creating a successful strategy is Keeping Life Current.

Steve is the SBCN Community Mentor and can be reached at