Is the Customer Always Right?


Three years ago, I merged my father’s company with my grandfather’s nearly 70-year-old company, one of the oldest companies in the country. Both worked their entire lives in the pool and spa industry and so have I, starting at age eight, but the merger took place without either of them. Both passed away from cancer years ago; my grandfather when I was 18, and my dad when I was 30. You could say I learned everything about pools from them, and boy, did they know a lot. But I haven't been able to go to either of them for advice on running a pool business and all the challenges that come with it. I was pushed into ownership when my father passed during the recession, so I have come to learn more from self education, networking and discussions with fellow professionals.

One thing that is really hard to learn from a friendly competitor, an industry friend or a teacher in a classroom is whether the customer is always right. It’s a concept that can be the line in the sand between many referrals, good reviews and more business...and bad reviews, no referrals and less work.

Sometimes, many times, maybe even all the time, there are clients who won't ever be happy and are very difficult to work with. When we know they are absolutely 100 percent wrong, how is it that they are “always right?”

Well, they aren't always right, but you have to treat them like they are.

Business is business, and in a service-focused field like ours, you have to do whatever it takes to make a customer happy.  When you fix a mistake without hesitation and before they ask you to, when you lose money making it right, when you offer a warranty on things that shouldn't be covered, or when the customer messed it up but blames you and wants it fixed, they are still right.

I know those really hard customers who argue until they’re blue in the face may not seem like they’re worth the time. But if you suck it up and give them what they want (and if it’s not a request that will set you back too far financially) you can bring more wealth back as a result. Sometimes, taking care of the customers you don’t like can lead to referrals and more business down the line.

Here’s another way of looking at it: What is the price of not stressing, not arguing with them and not bringing home the stress of the day? What is that worth to you? If low stress and a happy home life are priorities for you, again, suck it up, eat the cost and get the job done.

We have pools we designed, built, and still maintain from the 1950s, some built out of concrete block even! We have had over 800 pool maintenance accounts since the 1960s. I can't tell you how many of those accounts were clients who were difficult to work with (and just plain wrong), but we still took care of them instead of having endless arguments. Some of those situations, like removing a chemical charge or adding a little free labor, can turn into a larger ticket (or even a big construction project) down the road.

I’ve learned the customer is king. And by allowing them to be right, even when it’s hard for you to bite your tongue, you’re setting yourself up for a better future.

Erik “Ike” Eikevik is the vice president and owner of Ike’s Carter Pool Companies (Oakland Park, Fla.).

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