Who’s in Charge? The Customer or You

I see it all too often but today the confrontation was epic!

Let me set the stage in my best boxing ring announcer voice….

“In the red corner, a loud, brash, entitled customer  and  in the blue corner a poorly selected and ill-trained staff…..”

Cesar Ritz, the founder of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, iscredited with saying “the customer is always right.”  I am fond of saying that “Cesar was wrong but the customer is always… the customer.”  What I witnessed today, at a store I will chose not to name, was the worst of both customer and business behavior.

I am convinced that some people should not be in the service industry.  Not everyone has the emotional intelligence to “hear past” the words being stated by an irate customer and listen for what will be needed to de-escalate and hopefully resolve a conflict.  Even individuals who have this talent must be trained and supported to grow in conflict mitigation skills.  Today, however, the company’s representative took the customer’s words personally and responded in kind.

Had I been interested in watching a yelling match, I would not be complaining to you about the “free” show I was so generously provided.  Unfortunately, no one in management interceded to take the customer into a private and calming environment – so the checkout lines became front row seats.

Thanks for listening!

Now questions for you…

How well are you selecting for the emotional intelligence of your customer-facing employees?

Does your training provide opportunities to develop conflict management skills? and

As a leader, where would you have been today?  Standing by or modeling the behavior you expect to see?

Smoke over black background

Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Joseph Michelli, Joseph Michelli, Beth Dockins, Beth Dockins, Efrosyni Adamides and others. Efrosyni Adamides said: Who's in Charge? The Customer or You » Joseph Michelli – The … https://bit.ly/dMQnK5 […]

  2. Steve FleminG on January 24, 2011 at 12:53 am

    I agree customers expectations have gone up in resent years, no the less service providers must remember we need and if we don’t take care of the someone else will be glad to. Not to say a service provider should be subjected to an abusive situation; however I learned years ago we a customer is angry and escalating its best to quickly and isolate this person from others. With out a crowd watching and listening both are less likely to put on a show, sitting if possable then listening fully to the costomer and not interupting them taking notes helps then confirming the problem or area of opertunity may help. I find it very rewarding in turning a angry patron to a happy one..

  3. […] weeks ago I came across a blog post where the author, Joseph Michelli talked about the importance of educating your employee to hear […]

  4. Virtual Agents on May 12, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Customer satisfaction is always the goal of every service provider but some days are simply better than others even with a well-trained staff, after all, some customers are harder to please than others. I guess the best way to address this kind of problem is to get away from the crowd and hear each other out and then try to sort out things.

  5. Zachary Meiu on July 21, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Steve – …”listening fully to the costomer and not interupting them taking notes helps then confirming the problem or area of opertunity may help.”

    Absolutely true! Sometimes it’s hard to keep them all happy, but so often the client just wants to be heard.


  6. kelli on August 11, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Well customer is said to be right although I don’t agree with this phrase. But as the business owner, it’s responsibility to provide good service or good quality of product to the customers. Now, if the customers aren’t pleased, then it’s our responsibility to subdue the customer to minimize attracting attention that will surely ruin our business’ reputation.

  7. Joseph Michelli on September 1, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I completely agree with you! The customer can flat out be wrong but they are always the customer and business leaders need to educate and treat consumers with respect.

Leave a Comment


The Starbucks Experience: Leadership Tips eBook
Elevating Care in Healthcare: Lessons from the UCLA Health System eBook
How to Win Every Customer, Every Time, No Excuses! Article