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Is the Customer Always Right?

So Courier Nation, let me ask a question: Is the customer always right? Especially when Doordash, Grubhub, Postmates and others are our customers? You hear that phrase a lot: The customer is always right.

It's a concept that works in retail

Way back in 1905, Sears, Roebuck & Co published that “Every one of our thousands of employees are instructed to satisfy the customer regardless of whether the customer is right or wrong.” Okay, so Sears is barely hanging on by a thread these days, but considering it’s been 114 years since they said that, I’m going to say that it worked well for them.

We did a remodeling project a few years ago, and really tried to go local with some of the things we purchased for that. The treatment we received from the local store, compared to the treatment we received at the big national chain left me re-thinking that policy. Sometimes it’s not a matter of the national giant bullying their way into a market as it is they’re doing a better job on the customer service side. They went above and beyond, and even took back some items that I never would expect that they would. I wasn’t right but they treated me like I was, and I’ve since spent a lot more money there.

But how does this apply to our situation?

We’re in a bit of an unusual situation – usually a business has dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of customers. As we’ve mentioned earlier, the delivery company is our customer, and we might have just a handful of customers, it’s not about us trying to woo in customers like a store might do. In fact, our customer is a customer to thousands of other drivers, it’s really the reverse.

So I think there’s two questions I want to ask today:

Is the customer always right?

What do you do when the customer isn’t right?

Is the customer always right?

Absolutely not.

The customer is not right when it expects you to be an employee without paying for the right to have you as an employee.

The customer is not right when it expects you to accept every order.

They are not right when they try to take away your right to serve other customers at your discretion.

You can move this on down to the restaurants and the end users. The restaurant can’t expect you to do food prep. The restaurant isn’t right when they refuse to fill your order until all the customers in line have placed their order. The customer isn’t right when they require you to go into unsafe situations to get their food to you, or when they don’t provide adequate instructions.

What do you do when the customer isn’t right?

The first thing I suggest is don’t take it personally.

It rarely is something directed specifically at you. It’s not that they’re out to get you – you’re just another blip in their day.

Try to put yourself in their shoes. Try to see other perspectives than your own.

We learned this lesson in our telecom business. We had customers who, in our view, were totally unreasonable in what they expected. But when we realized that they weren’t familiar with what is normal to expect and we hadn’t educated them well enough ourselves, we could understand they weren’t being jerks. They just didn’t know better.

Examples among our customers of multiple factors behind the things they do

Think about the Doordash tipping controversy. Doordash says that they are supplementing lower tip offers. Some drivers see it as they get the same amount of pay whether they are tipped or not. So people feel like Doordash is stealing tips.

The funny thing is, Grubhub is struggling with not getting low tip orders picked up by drivers. Too many orders are not being delivered. So what is the answer a lot of drivers suggest? That Grubhub should add a little to the low pay orders to make them worth taking.

I’ll guarantee that some of the same people up in arms about how Doordash is structuring things are suggesting that Grubhub do this – so how is that different?

Seeing the pressures to get orders delivered

I’m not taking a position on that right here, but the one thing that I think we need to remember with these companies is, they are under pressure to get the orders delivered. If it doesn’t happen, people quit ordering and they lose restaurants. I’m fully convinced this is why Doordash has blown past Grubhub as the market leader: Doordash is doing a better job filling orders.

Doordash responded by adjusting their pay model. Grubhub adjusts by cracking down on drivers. While the pay model approach was more successful, now they have other problems in the backlash they are facing.

It doesn't excuse these companies in any way, shape or form, but sometimes it helps when we look at the big picture. We see they could increase what they pay to drivers, but where does that come from? Does it require increasing delivery fees and do they lose customers by doing so? When we see that making changes that help us could hurt them in other areas, there's less emotion in the issue.

When the customer is wrong, it often involves an awful lot more than just us.

Restaurant staff treats us like scum but maybe it’s because enough other drivers HAVE been scum. Customers give horrible information but maybe it’s kind of like people not knowing their cell phone. What I mean is, if they’ve never had to be in the shoes of the one trying to find their place they’ve never had to think about the things people need to know.

What I’m getting at is this: There is so much that our customers, and their customers, do that make life difficult. We’re not going to change them, they will do what they will do. But when we see WHY they do what they do, it helps us. It helps our perspective. If we can’t change them, we can change our outlook. When we realize it’s not personal, it’s not directed at us, we aren’t bothered as much.

When the customer isn’t right, it’s time to ask this question: Is it still possible to meet my business goals in this situation?

Can I continue to profit and thrive in this environment?

That can be a micro question and a macro question. You can ask that on a delivery by delivery basis. This delivery doesn’t make sense. Waiting 45 minutes at the restaurant doesn’t make sense. Make your decision and move on. Getting emotional about the decision is where the stress enters in, and that’s something you can control.

At some point, when it comes to the bigger picture, continuing the relationship might not make sense. That’s the macro level. I know that right now I make a good enough profit at this that it’s worth doing. That can always change. Maybe a provider crosses the line too much. That’s a decision you have to make.

Sometimes the guy who comes into the store and asks to buy something at half price, you just have to say no. Sometimes when that guy gets abusive to your staff or to you, you just have to say enough and ban them. Sometimes they’re so wrong that you end ties. We’ll talk about that more on Friday.

The bottom line

You can control how you react when the customer is wrong. You can get on their level and be miserable. Or you can be a professional about it. You can say I no longer want you as a customer, and that’s fine. My main advice here is, don’t let your reaction to the dumb things the customers do impact you to the point of costing you your profitability and your ability to enjoy what you do. You’re the boss, even when the customer is wrong.

Could this help someone else? Please share it.