The customer is not always right…but is it really worth the argument?

Last weekend I say the perfect example of winning the battle and losing the war! It was a Sunday and I arrived at one of my local manicure and pedicure salons (a small but well run establishment) with the intention of having a much needed pedicure. This service usually takes 40 minutes however, on this day, the salon was packed.  Three customers were already on the “being attended to” chairs. Two of them were indeed being attended to by the 2 nail manicurists (the business owner and her employee) and the third customer was arguing with the business owner’s husband/manager over what she saw as a misrepresentation of the price of her new set of false nails which had just been fixed.  There were 3 other ladies waiting patiently, albeit with grimaces on their faces indicating that they were non too pleased with the fact that (a) there weren’t enough people to serve customers and (b) that the husband/manager was not containing  the argument quickly so as to free him to concentrate on serving one of the waiting customers.

On seeing me enter, the husband/ manager broke way from the arguing lady to attend to me. He asked if I was willing to wait for 30 minutes before I could be attended. I responded that I was. I made a mental calculation that if all went to plan, my pedicure would take a total of 70 minutes. I sat down, took out my novel and proceeded to do my best to ignore the continuous raised voices of the arguing lady and the husband/manager.

The argument was over an extra £3.00 charge which the customer was required to pay to have her newly fixed nails painted with a design of her choice. According to the customer though, she was entitled to have this paint for free as part and parcel of the advertisement on the wall of
the nail salon which stated “Special Offer: A new set of nails £25”. No matter how much the manager/ husband tried to explain that  spray painting wasn’t included in the deal, the customer couldn’t understand it. In her defence she stated that it was “unnatural” for someone to have a new set of nails and walk out with them bland without the usual finishing touches. Therefore she stated, she would not pay the £25 until her nails had been painted.

As the lady got progressively irate and loud, the owner /wife decided that she had had enough of  her husband not being firm enough with the customer and waded in with her own aggressive response. “Just pay me my £25 and leave my shop. I will not paint your nails!

At this point, the situation got ugly. Two other customers also waded into the argument. Swearing and cursing ensured and all work stopped
and doors locked in case the lady should want to abscond without paying. It was ridiculous. For 30 minutes or so there was a complete stand- off. Tempers flew. Eventually, one of the waiting customers decided that she had had enough and asked the manager to open the doors for her to leave. Her wish was granted. As she left, she managed to stop 2 other customers from entering with a remark which made them stop in their tracks and divert to the competitor nail salon a couple of doors away.

At this point, I decided to stop the pretence of reading my book and watched all the participants with intense fascination. All were speaking at once. All believed that they were right. All were determined to stand their ground…and no customer service was being done.

All this for the sake of £3.00!

The truly interesting thing was that the issue with the irate customer wasn’t  that she didn’t have the extra £3.00 to pay but that the business owner needed to acknowledge that she, as a customer, was right.

A total of one hour later, I too had had enough and got up to leave. The husband/ manager apologised profusely and asked me if I would return the next evening on my way from work. I smiled sweetly and replied with a “No Thanks”. Indeed, the next evening, I went to their competitor and even received a refreshing cup of tea. During the course of the pedicure, I learnt that they were having a really good trading day. Apparently they had managed to attract 2 new customers on that day and I was the 3rd.

Mmmm I thought to myself. What is the betting that the other 2 new customers were, like me, fugitives from the previous day’s incident?

The moral of this story is this – As a Manager or business owner or when working with people, learn to be wrong, even when you are right.
Learn to listen and be gracious. Learn to communicate with empathy. To paraphrase a well known verse – What does it profit a man if he wins an argument and looses a customer or two in the process?



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