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Most of us in the English-speaking world have grown up hearing the mantra “The customer is always right.” Like a lot of buzzwords and catch-phrases, it sounds good, but it’s not a reliable reference point these days, if it ever was. 

It was invented, no doubt, to be used as handy reminder for employees in the retail sector. Its aim was to help them remember that unhappy customers should be taken seriously and complaints remedied quickly.

A noble notion that has been taken up wholesale. It muscles its way into almost any arena where where there is a clientele or service users; customers now exist in places they never did before (public transport and education are two examples).

The original meaning has been generalised to become an unconscious script in many situations. to a point where staff on the receiving end of bad behaviour think that they must submit to discourteous behaviour and mistreatment. 

Time for a re-write. How about “The customer is only right when polite”?

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