Whoever said that the customer is always right was obviously an academic who had never dealt with customers. Customers aren’t always right; in fact, they are sometimes dead wrong, but they are always “the customer,” and as such, I’ve learned the hard way that we can’t argue with them. I cannot win an argument with a customer. If I lose — I lose; if I win — I lose.

Since stress is caused when the brain keeps the body from knocking the stuffing out of a customer who desperately deserves a whooping, it is critically important for customer service professionals to have a positive outlet for negative emotion. At one stressful job I once had in Fairbanks the boss created a worst customer contest. Really!

Read on:

We had actual entry forms where we wrote the customer’s name, a description of the difficult situation, and what we did to solve the problem to delight the customer. At the weekly staff meeting the boss would read aloud our entries and select a weekly trophy winner. The trophy was a model airplane that the winner would keep on their desk for a week.

He was a crafty boss, I’ve realized as I look back in retrospect. He found a way to make us look forward to difficult customers, had put us in a positive and proactive mood to solve cutomers’ problems and taught how to problem solve without our knowing it. I think he also used our entries to follow up with customers to make sure all was well. And all we had wanted was the airplane trophy of victory. One suggestion, if readers of this column are to implement a “worst customer contest,” don’t let your customers know about the contest, nor the meaning behind the trophy. 

The other lesson I learned from this wise, old boss was that we couldn’t wow! all of our customers every day, or we would be exhausted by 10 a.m. He taught us to give great service to everyone, but to pick out one customer each day we would go out of our way to wow with exceptional service. If everyone in your organization delighted at least one a day, between five and seven days per week, think about how many “wowed” people would be walking around town spreading your organization’s good name every year? 

I had a pretty smart boss. He served us well so that we could serve his customers well. Come to think of it: He also retired young and rich.

Charle Dexter is a professor of applied business emeritus. He may be reached by email at cndexter@alaska.edu. This column is provided as a public service by the UAF Community and Technical Colleges.