I bet you’ve heard the phrase “the customer is always right”. It seems to be something that gets repeated when we’re not happy with a product or service, especially in the food and retail words. Well, that phrase was originally used in the early 1900’s by folks such as Harry Gordon Selfridge and Marshall Fields. If those names aren’t familiar to you, they’re both retail magnates who ran high-end department stores - Selfridge in the UK, and Fields in the USA. They both wanted their employees to focus on giving excellent customer service, and so this “the customer is always right” motto was born.
So ok, you might be wondering why I’m taking you on a nice walk down memory lane, and what the heck this has to do with running a health, fitness or wellness-based business.
Well, here’s the thing: it’s easy to fall into the mindset that the ‘customer’ is always right. People who work in helping professions - like you - are often people pleasers and want their clients to be happy. And even if you aren’t a people-pleaser, from a business perspective it is important to give good customer service, just like Selfridge and Fields were thinking about.
The idea of good customer service probably isn’t foreign to any of you. It basically boils down to the idea that if someone is paying for something, they should be happy with how they spent their money.
When we’re buying products like clothing, laptops and cars, the customer service aspect is a bit easier to understand. If the product is priced appropriately for the quality, if the return policy is reasonable, and if the people you’re buying it from are polite (or even better, knowledgable and excited to sell you the item) then that’s a situation where most folks would feel they got good customer service.
But what about those of us who aren’t selling a product? What if we’re providing a service, such as massage therapy, fitness coaching, or nutrition counselling?
If you’re selling a service, what you’re really selling is your experience. Your expertise. Your talent and skills. And because of this, we don’t usually call our customers, well, customers - we call them clients. Clients pay money for professional services. Of course, those of you in certain medical professions call your clients patients, but the same idea applies here. Whether they’re patients or clients, they’re looking to you for your expertise and not just to be sold something.
This is where the idea of good customer service gets really sticky, at least for some of us. It’s true that no matter what you do, there are some things that are important parts of keeping your clients happy. For example, you should listen to what your client’s problems are so you can properly help them. You should communicate well with them, and follow up when needed to make sure your treatments are progressing as they should be. You should manage your time well and try to never be late or go ‘over time’ with a client (unless you’ve mutually agreed to that). You should listen to their feedback about pressure and technique.
But what about this idea of the customer always being right? The retail model of this does lead to the customer always being right - at least in most cases. Someone doesn’t like the product they purchased, or the price, or whatever it might be? In many cases you’ll see retailers (well, at least the big ones) offer discounts, allow no-questions-asked returns, or throw in free products in order to make the customer happy.
But hey, this is not the model we want to be following as professionals offering a highly trained skill to the world!
You know how hard you trained in school to earn the right to call yourself an RMT, DC, RHN, or whatever your designation or career. You know the amount of work that goes into each session with your clients. You know your services are worth what you are charging (and if you don’t feel this way, we need to chat!).
So why do some of us allow clients to walk all over us? We let them pressure us into discounts we don’t really want to give, or book in at times we weren’t supposed to be working, or we even let the client decide exactly how the treatment will proceed, instead of treating based on, well, our expertise and experience.
Please remember you are not just a set of hands for hire! You are a professional. So it’s ok to be polite but firm and not give that discount. It’s ok to tell people you aren’t available at the time they wanted. It’s absolutely ok to tell clients your findings and how you would like to proceed with treatment!
That stuff isn’t bad customer service, no matter what some people might tell you and now matter how they might try to make you feel. It’s just you doing your job, the one you trained years to be in. As long as you are being honest and clear with people, that’s actually really good for your business, even if it does lead to some awkward conversations.
Because really, it feels so much better to work in that way! Ask yourself: how many times have you felt weird or annoyed about those clients who give you a hard time because you don’t have last minute appointments available? Or those clients who want to nickel and dime you at every single treatment, asking for discounts? Or the people who want you to write receipts in someone else’s name so they can claim it for insurance, even though they know it’s wrong because you’ve told them before?
Let those people go. It’s ok, I promise. Because the customer isn’t always right, and only you decide what’s best for you and your business.