The customer could be wrong


May 3, 2023

Jerry Schappert

Jerry Schappert

The idea that “the customer is always right” originated around 1909 and was used as a motto for retailers who adopted this line of thinking.

Apparently, there were quite a few ne’er-do-well shopkeepers, and customers were disappointed with purchases that didn’t live up to what they expected. When they voiced their displeasure, it often fell on deaf ears. The retailers who went with the customer is always right soon enjoyed more business, better reputations and growth. Although it’s unclear who truly coined the phrase, the idea caught on quickly and to this day, companies still employ this mindset.

In a nutshell, this credo means even if a customer is wrong, or disappointed, or misused the product, you will make it right — no questions asked. But even the best customer base a company may enjoy may have a ne’er-do-well or two.

The reality is this concept can be a recipe for disaster.

Listen to customers

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told our treatment didn’t work because suddenly, the customer has dead insects everywhere that they never had before. Or the customer calls and claims, “Jerry said if I saw any bugs, you would come back out for free!”

Let me assure you those words have never come out of my mouth. But you can’t tell customers that. Yes, we try to educate our customers and reiterate expectations — but alas, deaf ears must be common, too.

Sometimes, we go back to upset customers more for appearance’s sake, and after a few minutes, we’re back on the road. Hopefully, the customers feel they have been taken care of. Were they right? No, not at all. But in the end, it doesn’t matter if they feel jilted and cancel the service, or leave a bad review. The fact that they didn’t listen to our initial instructions or refuse to keep their homes clean so our service would really shine, is something they rarely consider. Even the odd times they do concede, you’re left standing there. So, you break out your flashlight, do a little service and voilà, you’re on your way.

It’s not wrong to walk away

Are there times I dig my heels in and say no? Yes, indeed. Usually if it gets to that point, one of us wasn’t long for the door anyway. For example:

  • The “spray everything, I’ll wash it up later” crowd is never right. I won’t endanger someone or go against label directions for anyone, period.
  • If I sense I’m dealing with customers suffering from delusional parasitosis, I won’t treat, no matter how much they fuss.
  • If someone puts one of my technicians in harm’s way or berates my office staff, that customer is not “right.”

All I know is for 37 years, I’ve been dealing with a whole bunch of right people and making them happy. I just can’t feel wrong about that.

The Pest Cemetery Crew

“This is more of a sentiment than a fact. ‘Customers always think they are right and you’d be better off assuming they are until you know otherwise’ is probably a better quote, but it just doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way.” — Tyler Gehauf, Owner, Integrated Pest Management, Colorado Springs, Colo.

“The customer is always right. It is your job as a professional to correct their beliefs and reasoning if you feel they are wrong. Sometimes having a different perspective and knowledge set helps customers see things your way, making them right.”
— Christopher Vasquez, Owner, Wrex Wildlife and Pest Control, Westchester, N.Y.

“It’s a customer service statement. Learn it, live it — but finish the quote! The quote is: ‘The customer is always right even when they are wrong.’ If you follow this mentality, you get to acknowledge they are wrong while treating them like they are right. It’s Management 101.”
— Dave Staib, Owner, Freedom Pest Services, York, S.C.

About the Author

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SCHAPPERT is owner of The Bug Doctor, Ocala, Fla., and administrator for Facebook industry discussion group Pest Cemetery. He may be reached at

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