The customer is NOT always right, not even close

The largest gym in Taiwan recently sued the “consumer protection agency” and unfortunately, they lost. Full story here: … 1/34805728

Now right up front, I don’t agree with the gym’s policies and I would never go there. The dispute was apparently over the fact that if you buy a personal training package, you couldn’t get a refund for that package in the future nor could you change trainers. I see why they don’t offer a refund – they deeply discount the package if you buy more/stay longer. So now customers can get the benefit of the cheaper price for agreeing to stay longer without fulfilling their end of the bargain by…you know…actually staying longer. The second part I agree with – people should be allowed to change trainers within reason. I don’t know why the gym wouldn’t agree to that but maybe they have their reasons.

The reason this bothers me so much though is that we’re about 5-10 years away from being able to run any kind of small business, and it’s nonsense like this that’s making it happen.

When is ANYONE EVER personally responsible for ANYTHING they do? When? Someone chooses a gym, walks in the door (no one dragged them there, did they?), takes a tour, decides to join, SIGNS the contract, etc. I don’t see any slaves in this equation. No one was forced at gunpoint to do anything. If someone doesn’t like the gym policies then it’s bizarrely simple – GO SOMEWHERE ELSE!!!

As a society we get further and further away from any hint of personal responsibility and there will be consequences that people don’t realize. We expect to be saved from every bad decision we make but the person at fault is never, ever us. It’s someone else.

The problem is the idea that “the customer is always right” but they aren’t. The customer is always right, right up until it’s bad for business. And who makes the call whether or not that’s bad for business? The business does, NOT the customer.

Now we love our customers but about once a month or so we get a request or even a demand that is simply beyond what we’re willing or capable of doing. Satisfying this customer simply isn’t worth the trouble. Example? I traded 25 emails with a guy wanting to buy a product so he knew what he was getting and then he wanted to send it back after he got it because it wasn’t what he expected. I said no. When I take my time to send 25 emails then I’ve gone way beyond any reasonable expectations of me as a business owner.

A friend in the swimsuit business recently closed shop after a customer bought a swimsuit, wore it the beach, got sand it in, then demanded a refund because “it was dirty when I got it.” This stuff happens but it shouldn’t.

And here’s the thing – we business owners need to start telling the customer this. When people make unreasonable requests, I push back. Unreasonable demands need to be called out and customers that are more trouble than they’re worth need to be shown the door. We make the vast, overwhelming number of our customers and clients very happy. The rest shouldn’t be allowed to ruin it for everyone but with a government and a society that tells them nothing is their fault, they have the political power to do it.

People need to start taking personal responsibility for their actions and they need to be called on it when they aren’t. A business should make it’s policies clear but when it does, you either accept them or you’re free to go somewhere else. Telling business owners that “you’re not the boss, I’m the boss” is absolutely unacceptable and will make a lot of small businesses go bankrupt. We aren’t large, faceless corporations with large staffs. But the same demands get made on us because many people believe “the 40 hour work week is the modern form of slavery” and if you have a business then “you didn’t build that, someone else made that happen.” This kind of thinking is totally ignorant of how difficult it is and how much work and personal money a business owner puts into the business. We try our best to make it look effortless and we want to be stoic about it all, but believe me, the risks are huge and it’s a ton of work. We try to hide it because it’s unseemly, even unmanly, to complain about how difficult it is. But when people with a huge sense of entitlement make unreasonable demands that might threaten the business, then we need to openly talk about this stuff.

Modern people are used to being endlessly courted and pandered to and there are serious political and societal consequences to this process. Before you sign your name on a contract, think about what you’re agreeing to and if you do agree to the demands of the contract, then be a man or a woman and uphold your end of the agreement. It’s really that simple.

Don’t go to America.

Actually, I totally agree with what you’re saying. I just think that in the US, customers take the idea of the customer always being right to the extreme. In Taiwan, a refund is a rarity; in America, it’s the norm.

What’s most annoying here is the small number of people who maintain the annoying attitude that some personal philosophy or cultural value means you must not do things in the manner which seems correct to you, but to their satisfaction, even though you have always done things in that way and even a basic understanding of the way your business works–which one thinks one would attain before beginning a long-term association with a business–would seem to show clearly that their outlook is incompatible with yours.

Incidentally one marker I’ve noted in connection with this phenomenon is the Japanese-Taiwanese word kimochi–tough one to translate but it’s something like “good feeling among acquaintances supported by reciprocal acts of kindness.” It’s been my experience that the mention of this word is an invariable sign that any such feeling has already been utterly destroyed.

I’m sure this is the same anywhere though. Except for the kimochi. I doubt they have that anywhere else :slight_smile: Most people are great, and any business is going to have to deal with such issues, making it to an extent a problem you want to have. I agree with FF that businesses should put their foot down when something simply isn’t correct in their view–in fact this really happens all the time as well though.

Most of the business books I’ve read all make this point, often referencing the 80-20 rule. One that springs to mind (possibly from Tim bloody Ferriss) is: 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers. Therefore you should focus on the 20% and give short shrift to the others. I’m not convinced this is sensible though, unless you’re running a get-rich-quick scheme. A more realistic view might be that 80% of your customers return more in profits than they absorb in costs. 20% of them are a waste of space and should be dumped at the earliest opportunity.

As for the case mentioned in the OP, it’s complicated by the fact that this gym has a monopoly in Taiwan. This, to me, is extremely suspicious, especially given that their service, staff, and equipment is second-rate. They deserve to be slapped down at every possible opportunity, even if it’s “unfair”. If the customer has no other choices, it severely limits their ability to vote with their feet.

As usual these rules of thumb sound easy but are not. For instance, by only focusing on 20% of your clients you may open yourself to being sued by giving poor service or poor quality products or damaging your reputation. You would also get stuck if market conditions change.
The gym business in Taiwan is notorious for the hard sell binding contracts with lots of small print. It’s not a good example to get all huffed up about.

My thoughts exactly.

little offtopic perhaps, but I think America return policy is too extreme one way and Asian no return policy is too extreme the other way. would be nice to see something that is fair to the consumer and not allow bad-faith consumers to game and rip-off businesses with a generous policy.

Taiwan has a strong return policy for items bought on the internet.

Pastor Who Left Sanctimonious Tip Gets Waitress Fired from Applebee’s, Claims Her Reputation Was Ruined - After a copy of her Applebee’s receipt began circulating online yesterday, Pastor Alois Bell of the St. Louis-based Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries phoned up the restaurant and asked to have everyone involved fired.

I agree that it’s ludicrous to compare 40 hours in a comfortable office to slavery, but I doubt many people are ignorant of the hard work it takes to build a business. Your latter quote is from President Obama, and it was just a poorly worded way of reminding people that government establishes the infrastructure and legal environment necessary for business to thrive. If you took a poll in any country asking, “Do you believe it takes hard work, dedication, and money to build a business?”, I’d be willing to bet somewhere between 90-100% would answer “Yes”.

It isn’t necessarily true that 80% of a firm’s profits come from 20% of a firm’s customer base. It depends entirely on the business model. Banks experience imbalances like that (or even more extreme), but I doubt very seriously it’s true of personal trainers or gyms. One of the reasons gyms insist on contracts is to make sure every customer is profitable.

Yes, I wasn’t agreeing with it. IMO it only applies to dodgy businesses like pyramid schemes, and, um, banks.

The restaurant thing is ludicrous - that goes above and beyond what even the OP was talking about. It’s just weird on so many levels. OTOH, America is renowned for striving for ultimate weirdosity.

Just my input into the 80/20 rule when it comes to running your own business:

I find that 80% of customers are pleasant and nice to deal with. 20% are the opposite!