One of my favorite topics to write and speak about is about what happens when the customer is not right.  I love to say it…

The customer is NOT always right. 

It’s okay for customers to be misinformed or make a mistake.  However, sometimes the customer is not only “not right,” they are abusive and disrespectful toward the people who are trying to do their best to help them, our employees.

I decided it was time to resurrect this concept after hearing the same story three times in a week.  It’s an old Southwest Airlines story that I first heard years ago.  The short version is that a passenger kept writing the airline about how unhappy she was.  She didn’t like the boarding process, not having an assigned seat, a small bag of peanuts versus a meal and more.  After a number of letters, one of them finally made its way to Herb Kelleher, the CEO of the airline. He took the time to respond.  He wrote:

We’re going to miss you.  Love Herb

This simple response sent a clear message to the customer: We appreciate you, but it’s not working out.  It also sent a message to the employees.  We appreciate you, and we value you to the point that we’re willing to put you ahead of the customer.

Some customers aren’t worth doing business with.

Abusive and disrespectful customers can bring down the morale of the company. A company’s culture that evokes the customer is always right rule is just fine until the customer is wrong to the point of being abusive.  Then it creates a dilemma for the employee.  It gives a customer the advantage in that they can bully an employee, pushing them to a point of being very uncomfortable.  It makes an employee apprehensive about what is the right or wrong thing to do.  It can take away an employee’s dignity and self-respect. It can also cause an employee to lose respect and resent his or her manager and even the company.

Some customers aren’t worth doing business with.  It’s okay.  Toxic customers may be bad for you and your company’s health.

This article first appeared on Shep Hyken’s Customer Service Blog and was written by Shep Hyken. You can read the full version here.