Platitudes Are Not Always Right

This week’s Discover Challenge from the Daily Post is to “write a post that goes against the conventional wisdom — reinterpret something for us.” I’ll take this opportunity to take shots at a particularly annoying platitude.

The assertion that the customer is always right has about as much value as an apple a day keeps the doctor away: you may feel good about yourself when making either statement (I’m providing excellent customer service! I’m taking care of my health!), but using either slogan as a guiding principle is ludicrously short-sighted. I’ve got nothing against apples; there’s even a couple trees growing in my back yard (the blossoms in spring are a particular joy). They’re nutritious and certainly more beneficial than many other things we routinely ingest, but if galas and fujis and golden delicious are a substitute for a balanced diet, exercise, and routine medical exams, you’re in for some serious problems.

Now, about those customers. Let’s cut out the nonsense first: yes, we need to listen attentively to them; yes, we need to show respect for their opinions; yes, they will ask for products and services we wouldn’t purchase. I gotcha, boss. But, always right — please. Let’s return to the business of health, and consider a conversation between a doctor and patient, the doctor’s customer:

“You have the flu. Go home and rest; here’s a prescription for the pain.”

“Thanks, doc.” Patient examines prescription. “Is this an antibiotic?”

“No. You have the flu, which is a virus. We’ve tested you for bacterial infection, and it was negative.”

“OK, but the thing is, I got sick this time last year, and I got better right after I started taking the antibiotic.”

Doctor checks the patient’s file. “That’s right, you had a bacterial infection last year, so that’s why the antibiotic made you better. Antibiotics only fight bacteria — they do nothing against a virus.”

“But my cousin took an antibiotic a few weeks ago, and he got better right away? I just want to get better, doc, and I KNOW the antibiotic will help. What’s the big deal?”

Yes, the customers are always right — except when they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Or they’re trying to defraud the buyer. Or they’re sacrificing long-term benefits for short-term gain. Or they’re trying to purchase materials for a weapon.

Aphorisms are fun and convenient, but are poor subsitutes for wisdom. Anyone who seriously believes the customer is always right has no business being in any position of customer service.

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