The customer is always wrong

This is a guest post from Engtech

The expression “The Customer is Always Right” was first used in advertising by Gordon Selfridge in the late 1800s, but has been around for centuries in who knows how many different languages. Yet it is a mantra that seems to be falling by the wayside in modern
business.  From the corporate point of view, the 21st century consumer is right less often. Corporations attack our pocketbooks from numerous fronts:

  • an abundance of user agreements telling you what you can or cannot use,
  • product purchase contests now use pins and require registrations to build up direct marketing databases,
  • hints at online retailers doing targeted price increases using your shopping habits to increase the price of items you are likely to buy,
  • digital rights management (DRM) technology — a fancy way of saying “even though you paid for this you don’t get to own it and do what you want with it”.

I didn’t like it when gift certificates changed to gift cards with expiration dates, although I understand the logic behind it. (It’s done for accounting reasons.)

I hate that if I make a mistake booking a flightand I don’t correct it within the grace period that I still have to pay a rebooking fee (and the original expensive fare) when rebooking to a cheaper flight. I understand it is a necessary barrier to prevent people from switching flights willy-nilly, but it sucks. (Always triple check your itinerary well ahead of time). The corporation has you bent over and at their mercy; business as usual.  Pray they use lubricant.

But what really makes my blood boil is the underhanded stupidity that you can only get when the person is right in front of you.  It’s easier to ignore the short-sightedness and psychosis that is assumed from an unseen evil corporate overlord.  It isn’t so easy to ignore a cashier in a green golf-shirt and clear plastic gloves who’s standing face to face with you.

Subway: Eat Fre$h

This first story is a simple one, I’m sure every consumer has experienced something similar at a one time or another. This was back when Subway still accepted “free sub” stamp cards (before the widespread counterfeiting made them too cost ineffective). My significant other and I bought two subs as a Couple Unit(tm) and we were soundly informed that we were only allowed one card per customer.

So we paid for them separately and USED OUR CARDS thankyouverymuch under the disapproving glare of the manager-slash-owner. (And have exercised out rights as consumers by never returning to that specific location.)

The second story happened today. The Subway location near my work offers daily 6″ sub specials for $2.49. Today’s special was the Italian BMT (Pepperoni, Salami, and Ham). Meanwhile, the 6″ veggie delite vegetarian sub was $4 + change. For those of you who are not Subway aficionados, there is no difference between a veggie sub and any other sub with the meat taken out.

So, something that cost Subway less in both ingredients and time was considerably more expensive than the special.  If you fancied a veggie sub, you might think you could ask for the special but leave the meat out.  In the words of StephenR. Covey, this would be a prime example of thinking win/win. I save a buck, Subway saves some cost on ingredients. But instead it was a clear example of No Deal. The only way to get a veggie sub for the low-low-price of $2.49 is to buy a meat sub and throw out the meat in front of them. You can’t even ask for “meat on the side, please”.

As a carnivore, I fully understand the desire to subsidize your business on the backs of the omni-lacto-hippo-vegans and visible minorities who avoid meat products for “religious reasons”. After all, our ancestors didn’t fight this long to get to the top of the food chain only for us to start giving up ground now. Maybe the refusal to play ball was really a neo-conservative judgment on my perceived left-wing hippy vegetarian societal choices?

Or maybe they were afraid what might happen if they started down that slippery slope:

  • trying to exchange two different 6″ subs of a lesser value for a footlong sub,
  • trying to switch cookies for chips in your sandwich, drink and side combo,
  • or trying to substitute a $2.49 cold-cut trio (turkey-based ham, turkey-based salami, turkey-based bologna) for a genuine turkey breast sub.

They’re absolutely right of course.  Increasing your business by making choices that benefit the consumer while saving your business money at the same time is the first step down the slippery slope to anarchy.  Arbitrary rules are always a better way to go than allowing people to make independent, intelligent decisions based on changing circumstances.

Besides, the customer is always wrong.



Filed under General Angriness

7 responses to “The customer is always wrong

  1. Thx Engtech- I enjoyed reading this, and checking out your site (so much so I wrote a whole rant about one of the links)


  2. We live in the Brave New World. Our society works as hard as possible to break people down to the minimal level of intelligence necessary to fulfill their job description. Most crumble after repeated reinforcements of their stupidity (regardless of whether or not they are actually dumb, and in most cases we will never know). Those who know and assert that they are smart, even in some upper-tier white-collar companies, risk getting some variant of the “not a cultural fit” speech. This is how the Gammas and the Deltas are kept in line. There are a large number of reasons to consider this cruel and unfair, but it’s the way society works.

    The service drones you dealt with, on these sandwich issues, were doing their jobs: following rules without questioning them. I don’t think the corporate decision-makers really care about someone getting a vegetarian sub for $2 cheaper. What they don’t want is for people behind the counters to offer lower prices to their friends: if there’s even the appearance that someone behind the counter is cutting deals, he’s fired. (I worked at a grocery store during high school; costs due to internal theft at such a store are typically 2-4 times the very-thin profit margin.) That’s what the higher-ups actually care about, and merely the principle of a service drone exercising individual thought frightens them. Once, during that high-school grocery job, the power went out for ten minutes, shutting all the cash registers down. I could’ve added up the customers’ prices and computed the tax by hand, but I wasn’t allowed to do this and, frankly, I wouldn’t have wanted most of the other cashiers computing my bill.

    I’m glad you mentioned the airlines, though. That’s one area where customer service is truly vile. If a person’s weekly food bills went from $120 to $89 to $756 for apparently arbitrary reasons, he’d never shop at that store.

  3. Thanks for the comments guys.

  4. The subway at my school (the only fast food institution for miles, for about a year; now we have a burger king off campus) lets you have cookies or chips in the combo. That one’s franchise-dependent.

    Not that I’ve had either the cookies or the chips, but I have to always clarify that I don’t want the stupid combo lest I get charged for it automatically while asking for a coke.

  5. They still have Subway stamps in Taiwan. They let you exchange the combo for chips or vice-versa without any extra charge. One thing though, there is no real BBQ sauce here, which sucks.

  6. Ben

    Jesus, I hate customers like you, always trying to substitute shit. If you can’t accept the special as is, don’t fucking order it.

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