Debunking the “Customer Is Always Right” Myth in Hospitality: A Modern Approach to Customer Service

In the bustling world of hospitality, the phrase “The customer is always right” has long been a guiding principle. While rooted in the pursuit of impeccable guest service, this age-old mantra now faces challenges in today’s evolving hospitality landscape. As the industry transforms, so too should our approach to customer service.

It’s time to take a holistic approach to guest service—one that values both the guest and our dedicated hospitality professionals. Let’s explore the origins, implications, and a balanced perspective on this famous adage.

The Origins of the Adage

The phrase “The customer is always right” traces back to Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of London’s Selfridge’s department store. Introduced in the early 20th century, it was a revolutionary concept aimed at assuring customers of unparalleled service standards. The primary goal? To make the guest feel valued and prioritised. However, as the hospitality sector has grown and diversified over the years, it’s essential to re-evaluate this mantra’s relevance.

The Potential Pitfalls of “Always Right”

While the mantra emphasizes guest satisfaction, blind adherence can lead to challenges:

  • Employee Morale and Well-being: Prioritizing guests over staff can lead to feelings of neglect or demotivation, affecting retention and service quality.
  • Setting Unrealistic Expectations: Some guests might exploit the “always right” policy, making excessive demands. Yielding to such requests can strain resources and inadvertently promote such behavior.
  • Compromising Service Quality: In areas like culinary arts, guests might not always know best. Altering a signature dish, for instance, might dilute its essence.
  • Reputation Risks: Appeasing a challenging guest might seem beneficial short-term, but businesses must consider long-term reputational costs.

A Balanced Approach to Modern Customer Service: “The Customer is Always Heard”

Customer service experts now advocate for a balanced approach to guest service. Instead of the blanket “always right” stance, it’s more about ensuring “The customer is always heard” and delivering a knockout positive customer experience. In fact, nearly 80% of consumers say that speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service are the most important elements of a positive customer experience1. This underscores the need for businesses to prioritize these aspects in their service delivery.

This perspective entails:

  • Promoting Open Dialogue and Active Listening: Engage with guests, understand their concerns, and validate their feelings.
  • Empowering and Supporting Staff: Equip your team with the skills and confidence to handle challenging situations. This includes training in conflict resolution, effective communication, and understanding when to escalate issues. Empower staff by giving them the autonomy to make decisions.
  • Setting Boundaries: While it’s essential to be accommodating, it’s equally crucial to set clear boundaries. This ensures the integrity of your service and protects the well-being of your staff.
  • Feedback and Growth: Use every guest interaction, positive or negative, as a learning opportunity. Encourage feedback and continuously refine your service standards based on these insights.

Remember, it’s not about being right or wrong; it’s about making guests feel heard and valued.


In Singapore’s dynamic hospitality industry, where guest expectations constantly evolve, striking a balance is crucial. By debunking the “always right” myth and adopting a more balanced approach, businesses can ensure both guest satisfaction and a motivated, empowered workforce.

Ready to master the art of modern customer service and elevate your career in the hospitality industry? Explore our range of VET by EHL courses tailored to the demands of today’s dynamic hospitality sector. Discover how SIH, in partnership with École hôtelière de Lausanne, is shaping the future of hospitality education in Singapore. Learn more about our programmes here.

1. PWC Future Of Customer Experience Survey ↩