Is the customer always right?
Here’s a discussion question you might consider in way of a non-partisan issue to tackle among family members and friends at the Thanksgiving table this year.
If there is one thing we all share in common around any table, it is the fact that we have all been customers before. That and we have all had customer complaints before in which our respective merchants were thought to be in the wrong.
But the question for discussion is, are we as customers ALWAYS right? Do we ever get it wrong, and is the merchant possibly right instead? (Fair warning: if asked at the dinner table, be sure to use the pronoun "we" rather than "you" or "I" unless you want a royal argument and potential food fight.)
If it were true that we and not the merchant are in the wrong, then what is the risk in acting as if the customer is always right? Or is there any risk at all if the merchant always apologizes and never argues any point with the complaining customer? Perhaps we can agree here that the merchant who has it right when we have it wrong may alter a correct course and move in a wrong or bad direction where even a good product or service is concerned. Perhaps we "always right" customers may even contribute to a bad policy, practice, or even staff termination on any given merchant’s part. Setting aside the chance that most merchants will never let customers dictate policies and practices on their end, let’s think about other implications in our broader society today of even thinking that “the customer is always right.”
Clearly, we live in a consumer-driven culture. Consumption dictates production within our overall economy. This is true in any free market system, whether one speaks of those who consume information via the internet as we now are doing or else one consumes opioid narcotics, sexual pornography, or even abortion services. We are customer driven. We customers are always right and thus have a right.
Even when we are wrong.
Within our framework of government, much has changed since my own young adulthood during, say, the days of our Watergate impeachment process. These days, it almost goes without notice, the polling data on how customers are reacting is what drives the decisions about use of Law or use of Constitution. If the customers say Yea, the politicians vote Yea. If Nay, then the politicians vote accordingly. The customer is always right. No matter what the Constitution or Law says.
Even when we are wrong.
The historical figure named Jesus of Nazareth lived through a time when religion itself was consumer-driven. The Chief Priests ruled in favor of the lawyers who interpreted the Law. Even the teachers or Rabbis had begun to teach according to what the student already believed was true. The Pharisees during the time of Jesus were unwilling to challenge their own consumer culture. They risked no interpretation of the Law that was in any way other than their male-dominant consumers desired. Their customers were always right. The Law always said what the men of the synagogue wanted it to say. And the Chief Priests rubber stamped that consumer-driven arrangement.
Jesus was counter-cultural. He knew what the customers wanted. He understood the consumer-driven culture where the men of the synagogue exercised their privilege. He knew what they demanded and what the Pharisees delivered in terms of the Jewish Law, as if advocating for their clients even when they were known to be guilty. And he knew the Chief Priests were not receptive to any culture-shifts among their tribes. But he challenged the culture anyway. He was counter-cultural. He stood up to the consumer as if to say, “you know, YOU are not always right!” Hence, their cry of “crucify him!”
We all surely want to be right. Always right. But we’re not. And when we are not, whether we like it or not, what we need is for someone to stand up for what is right.
Even when it’s not us as customers.