The other day I was leaving a parking lot that required me to pay on the way out. It was an automated system. I put my ticket in the slot, the machine calculated what I owed, and then asked me to insert my credit card to make the payment. There were even some convenient instructions on how to insert the parking ticket and credit card into the machine. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Even worse, it took my card and didn’t give it back. The screen read, “Error. Ticket Jammed.”

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A little frustrated, I noticed a button to push for help. Within moments a woman’s voice came over the speaker asked what the problem was. I shared what happened and she said someone would be there in just a few minutes. In the meantime, cars were starting to stack up behind me. I felt terrible—and even a little embarrassed.

The woman did show up and she quickly opened the machine and gave me back my card. She wasn’t very happy with me. She said, “It’s your fault. You put the card in the wrong way.” I told her that I followed the directions that were on the little machine. Holding her ground, she said, “Well, you did it wrong.”

In the short time I interacted with this woman, she told me the problem was my fault and I was wrong. Didn’t she ever hear that old saying, “The customer is always right!”? By the way, if you’ve followed my work, you know I don’t believe in that saying. I believe the customer is NOT always right. But I always remind everyone that the customer is still the customer. Even if they are wrong, you must let them be wrong with dignity and respect.

Apparently, that’s not what this woman believed. I even said, somewhat sarcastically, “So, you’re telling me I’m wrong?” She confirmed she was. By the way, she was right. I did put the card in the machine backward. But she didn’t need to make me feel bad about it. Perhaps she could have smiled and said, “Don’t worry about this. It happens all the time. Now you know how to do it next time.”

But no. She did the opposite. And in the process, she made me feel bad and a little embarrassed.

The point of this story is a valuable lesson. There are certain phrases you should never say to a customer when they are wrong. Some of them are:

  • You’re wrong.
  • It’s your fault.
  • You should (have)…
  • Read the fine print.
  • You didn’t follow the directions.
  • You don’t understand.
  • Too bad.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The customer usually knows they are wrong, but you don’t have to rub it in. Remember, always treat the customer with dignity and respect. The customer will feel good about that—and you will, too.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, keynote speaker, and New York Times bestselling business author. For information, contact 314-692-2200 or www.hyken.com. For information on The Customer Focus™ customer service training programs, go to www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright © MMXIX, Shep Hyken)