Without exception when I talk to people about what I do, I get heads nodding in agreement. “Yes (we nod), it is very important to have strategies around creating memorable (good) experiences for customers. Without fail the “but” or the “except” sentence begins. “But the customer isn’t always right”, they say.

So customers are not always right, but let them be wrong with dignity and respect. Organisations seem to make rules, policies and procedures for the 1% of customers who take advantage as opposed to making things simple for the other 99% of our customers who deserve our attention.

“The customer is always right” is a mantra urging service staff to give high priority to customer satisfaction, it was used in retail training when I was a girl. The slogan was made popular by successful retailers like Harry Gordon Selfridge. They thought that customer complaints should be treated seriously so customers did not feel cheated or deceived. But companies have a long way to go on delivering exceptional customer experience and a frequent pain point is complaints.

We know that customers who have a positive interaction are more likely to buy from a company than those who do not. Those customer who feel appreciated and valued are more likely to trust the company they deal with than those who are angry as a result of an interaction.

This does not mean that you need to give away the farm to keep the customer. But treating people like human beings instead of a complaint call number is important. Customers are more likely to have a positive experience (even if it is not the outcome they wished for) if they feel that they have been heard and treated with respect.

An Insurance provider in the United States identified that a claims rejection was a considerable pain point in their customer’s journey. They knew that the experience was not a positive one and yet wanted to see if the handling of the call could impact on the emotional response of the client despite the overall outcome not changing. What they found was that, customers who had rejected claims were more likely to have experienced a positive interaction resulting in greater satisfaction, if the customer felt they had been listened to by the operator. When the claims officer listened to their story and told customers that they would get back to them with a considered response, despite the fact that it may take another day and the outcome (a rejection of their claim) was the same – customers were happy. Customers felt that they had been listened to and heard by the insurer.

A change in the claims area from a transaction centre to a loyalty centre was significant. A reduction in escalated complaints, an increase in customer satisfaction across the interaction and the elimination of a point point based on a different experience approach.

Customer service interactions do not happen in a bubble. There is a journey that our customers take with us. Some of our journeys are decades long.

We know the economics, it is easier to keep a customer than it is to acquire one. It is cheaper to keep a customer than it is to acquire one. We know that a happy customer will promote us and tell our story to others. We need to be par to their journey to earn the right to be part of theirs.

Action: look at where you have critical cost reduction interactions at critical customer paths and calculate the value of turning it into loyalty centre.

Lesson:outcomes don’t have to change for the customer to deliver an exceptional customer experience – just the interaction.

Carolyn Grant is a customer experience practitioner and permanent student of life. An architect and facilitator of creating great customer experiences with organisations big and small. Working with boards, executives, marketing and sales teams to generate insights that create exceptional experiences.