The customer is always right – Is this real psychology?
We know all too well the old adage that “the customer is always right”. Although we know it’s nearly impossible for the customer to always be right, we play along because it’s our job to do so.
Psychology tries to explain why customers can behave the way they do and why they like to blame us for everything (note: I use the term “we” in a universal sense, as it does not reflect American genius).
Some complaints are justified, but…
Retailers, restaurant workers and everyone else have had to deal with a difficult customer or two. Although sometimes their anger may be justified, often times the client is projecting their anger onto you.
There are behavioral theories in psychology, the attribution theory and the correspondent inference theory of Jones and Davis, that can help shed light on why people behave the way they do.
Attribution theory explains how we judge behavior
Attribution theory is simply how we attach meaning to our behavior or the behavior of others. Fiske & Taylor explain that attribution theory tends to explain how humans judge behavior. If they judge someone else’s behavior, they assign internal attributions, while if they explain their behavior, they make external attributions.
For example, if you are driving and someone interrupts you, you can assign an internal attribution that the person is a terrible driver. On the other hand, if you were the only one interrupting someone, you would externalize your behavior as unintentional.
It is natural for people to always look for a cause behind an event. Finding a cause could explain why customers blame us. Using the ideas from the example above, if you are in a restaurant and find that your order is wrong, you can assign blame to the waiter by saying “they don’t know what they are doing”, then that was just a mistake.
Inference theory attributes behavior to personality
Jones & Davis Correspondent Inference Theory takes the idea of attribution theory one step further and deals with how people pay attention to internal behavior rather than accidental or thoughtless behavior.
The Jones and Davis theory suggests that we attribute a person’s behavior to his personality. This means that you would take the aforementioned assumption that the person who interrupted you earlier is not only a horrible driver, but also a horrible person.
When something goes wrong in the (usually) unwilling hands of someone else, we internalize that behavior for them. This brings us back to our original statement that if something bad happens, we look for a cause.
Easier to blame others than ourselves
Sometimes it’s much easier to blame others than yourself. The idea of ascribing something helps to assign a meaning or a cause to allow us to organize our lives. Since customers don’t always see us as individuals, it’s easy for them to blame us if something goes wrong.