Subj: Inter Office Mail – Customer Commitment – The Customer Is Always Right? Edition

Editor’s Note: Our own Jim McCarthy shared some thoughts about Customer Commitment with the Goldstar team, and, well, we thought you might get something out of it, too.

From: Jim McCarthy
Sent: Fri 6/7/2019 12:40 PM

By now, you’re all familiar with the Purpose Point that talks about Going All Out to Remove Barriers on behalf of our customers. We take inspiration from Jackie Chan, who over the course of his career subjected himself to incredible feats of danger and stupidity to make the best Kung Fu movies ever made. He did it, as he says, for one reason: the fan watching the movie. They are and were his inspiration.

So in a company where we’re all asked to metaphorically jump off skyscrapers for our customers, you might think that we would subscribe wholeheartedly to the customer service cliche, “The Customer is Always Right.”

We don’t.

Amy [Gardea, Senior Director of Customer Service] can attest to the fact that I’ve been saying this to her and her team for at least 15 years. That may surprise some of you and you may be asking why I would say that. But the answer’s simple, really.

Who cares who’s right?

Our job is to deliver for our customers. It’s hard to do that when you’re in a debate about who’s right and who’s wrong. We don’t do things for our customers because the rules say so or because we have to, we do them because they’re consistent with what we’re trying to do, to achieve as a company and as people. If something’s impossible or utterly impractical, perhaps, at least on that day, we don’t do what the customer is asking for.

But it’s not because they’re “right.” It’s because we care.

Hidden in the idea of someone being right is another idea: that someone else is wrong. I couldn’t be less interested in making people wrong, and I have especially little interest in making you wrong. The members of the Goldstar team are talented, tuned in and committed, and we all need to show up and deliver day in and day out. How do you think it affects somebody in a job if they feel like they’re constantly made wrong? How do you think it affects their ability to walk through walls or jump out of helicopters for customers?

This becomes even more poignant for me when someone on our team — it’s rare, but it happens — gets mistreated by a customer or even a partner. Mind you, “mistreated” is a big statement. Someone being upset, maybe even quite upset, because they didn’t get what they paid for or they have a problem or they are utterly confused by something we sent them, that’s pretty much normal in a service business. It’s our job — and we do it well — to do what it takes to make them whole and happy. Mistreatment goes past that to abuse, personal insults or just inappropriate kinds of interactions meant to demean or belittle. Is the customer right on these rare occasions?

Hell, no. Of course not. I won’t tolerate it and neither will your managers. But imagine working in an organization where you are expected to tolerate it, plaster on a smile and tell such a person they’re “right.”

How well do you think organizations with this philosophy deliver service?

It turns out people don’t want to be sucked up to. Not many anyway. They want to be listened to, treated with generosity and understanding and made to feel that they matter to the business they’re working with. Where do “right” and “wrong” come into play there?

In other words, if you’re asking the question “Are we right or is the customer right?” you’re already wrong. You’ve already lost.

The poet Rumi wrote:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

A Customer Commitment lives and thrives in an organization because the people in it feel a call to fulfill that commitment. That’s it. It’s not an us-versus-them tug o’ war. How absurd. We win together, and the good thing is that people in the vast majority do understand this and respond to it when they see it. That’s how we do it here and have done for 17 years.

And we’re just getting to the good part now…


And just to keep you entertained, here’s a video from 1992 of Herb Kelleher arm wrestling, while smoking a cigarette, the CEO of Stevens Aviation to decide the outcome of a dispute over an advertising slogan, rather than going to court.

Sign Up for Emails