as far as I know, that claim was first made by H. G. Selfridge, founder of Selfrideges stores. He hoped to motivate customers to appreciate good service and to motivate empolyees to offer good service.
Many people oppose to that claim ... from my perception, because thei FEAR customers to become aggressive, ruling around, demanding, complaining. Sometimes they are right. Some people are just stupid and stupid people do not demand good service but dictatorship. They want to command.
So, if we look at the single customer, there is quite a big that they are stupid, and stupid people tend ... NOT to be right.
However, the chance of a smart, wise custumer is about as big as that of a srupid one. Very often, the employee just has to sell products or services, while the customer comes with years (or decades) of experience in just the fitting questions. So, there's also a fat chance, that the customer is right.
As Jim Rohn said: "You never know, who's in the audience" or talking abaout an internet forum: "You never know, who's on the other side of the connection."
So, IF a mistake happens, statistics say, there is a chance or 50% that the customer is right and 50% that the employee (or manager) is right. Fifty-fifty ... sometimes the employee/manager is right, sometimes the customer is right.
Now to the much bigger picture .... the company vs. the client base. That is the point, where - my perception - that claim is ALWAYS true.
Because: Imagine a company without clients and customers ... it will not or no longer exist. So, if the customers (plural) do not like the product, they go away and the company was wrong.
Imagine customers not liking the product RN or the service of Travian ... they are right to pick one of thousands of other games, maybe not with better service, but at least with a different service.
It is the client base that creates the income, so, if they like the product and service, you can watch how right they are, cause the company grows.
.... and vice versa.
So at the end, if we do not look at the single customer and the single employee and their arguing ... if we look at the big picture, Selfridge was true.
In my experience as retailer it comes from what Klabbauter mentioned: they're always right in their complaints, because we have a job to not only sell products, but satisfaction as well.
However: The whole "Customer vs Company" view is a wrong one.
Just like in relationships whenever there's a problem, it's not him vs her. (Or him vs him, or her vs her).
It is the Customer AND Company vs The Problem.
It is Husband AND Wife (or Husband/Husband, Wife/Wife, and any other form of relationships included besides marriage) vs The Problem.
So the Customer is always right should still be aimed at Companies, so that they will work together with the Customer to tackle The Problem. And in that view I say: it is correct.
That is why service employees are trained to understand the Customer. Saying that you understand does not have to mean they are right, but the underlying issue is that they are right.
There's a whole grey area though, when it comes to warranty or disclaimers which reinstated the whole Company vs Customer idea again. And that is not a good development, unfortunately.
For example: A Customer returns a defective hammer drill, because the Customer used it to drill a hole in a solid concrete wall, unfortunately the hammer drill was not powerful enough so it overloaded and burnt out.
Customer is unhappy, riling himself up on the way over, storms in, slams the product on the counter with the receipt: "This thing is a piece of trash!!"
Nowadays the Company vs Customer view kicks in at most places (The Customer was too dumb to buy a better drill) as they take that comment at face value.
"The Customer is always right" view teaches you to find the underlying issue: That hammer drill did not live up to the expectation of the Customer. And in that respect: he is right. He's all bothered because the drill did not survive putting a hole in a solid concrete wall.
Now the service part of the Company's job kicks in.
Finding out how the Customer got that wrong expectation. Was he advised by an employee? Did he do his own research about the drill? Or was he (unintentionally) misguiding the employee with wrong information about the walls (Stone/bricks vs concrete) or were assumptions made.
While it does not solve the problem immediately, and it might cost the Company some money, it is imperative to figure this one out, as you might be dealing with an employee that will cost you more on the long run, so even though you're technically correct: Misuse of the device voids any warranty, you could just shell out some cash and give the Customer 50% off his next CORRECT purchase.
This way the Customer returns again because even though he later realises he's partly to blame, you still gave him a discount. And you get information on the problem and can correct it before more damage is done. Ranging from a small training for your employees to always get most of the details about what The Customer needs that product for so they can give the best advice, or firing an employee for just not giving a crap about that and only think about his/her sales numbers.
A Company with the wrong attitude will only focus on the warranty guidelines and disclaimers to make sure they're not to blame. Basically telling the Customer they're stupid for buying the wrong hammer drill.
You'll never see that customer again, and if you keep that up your business WILL cease.
Even though you're technically right, and they are wrong.
I think the key point in this phrase is the use of the word 'Always'.
There will be a large amount of occasions where a Customer is right, but there will be times when the Customer isn't right and therefore this statement is false.
As an example - I worked for a Fast Food Company for just over 4 Years, people used to come in over the weekend and occasionally other days where they'd had a few too many to drink. As a result, they would be abusive, aggressive and on rare occasions violent. I have known and witnessed Staff be abused because of something that didn't happen. In these occasions - it is often that the Customer isn't right.
However - I think the most important thing in a company is that you listen to the Customers. Sure, there will be some changes that you can't implement but there may be small parts of what they say that can help you shape your Business better in the future, or there may be times where you can use everything you say.
In most businesses - you have some way of seeing how things happen, what happens for example CCTV Cameras. These are able to recall the true story - and this can be used to see if the claims the Customer is making is true in a lot of cases.
When you take it literally, the phrase is always right for one simple reason.
The customer is always right. ---> If he is right, that means you are doing things right and he is your customer, he just has a compain that you 2 have to work with to find commonly accepted solutions
If he is not right --> Then it is still a true statement as he is no longer your customer
In reality, I agree at most points with Emziie as there are ways to improve customer and owner satisfaction in a bi-directional relationship, as long as there is goodwill and understanding from both sides.
This is the age old question....Ultimately the customer is the guy with the checkbook.
I've stopped worrying about what I think , Whether the customer is wrong or right in my line of work the job dictates how it gets done. If I don't feel I can service the customer, or if I feel that what the customer wants will not meet the building code then I move on.