Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker, and Marshall Field were three popularly known business men back in the 1900s. These three pioneering retailers believed that customer success is a core aspect when it comes to entrepreneurship. In particular, Marshall (or Selfridge) has been credited as the person who first said “Right or wrong, the customer is always right,” which ultimately became the most-popular phrase in customer service — “The customer is always right.” And in phrasing perhaps the most famous customer service quote of all time, the businessmen set the tone and intent of customer service for decades to come . Though most accredit Field for this quote, the three businessmen together advocated for a better treatment of customers, to make them feel valued and appreciated. Together, these three were credited with popularizing that familiar motto. The Marshall Field’s store in the US.A. majorly used the phrase as their slogan. The retail store, established in Chicago, is one of the many icons of the city. The phrase was also popular in the UK — Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of London's Selfridge store, encouraged the use of the phrase. Previously, Harry Gordon used to be an employee for Marshall from 1879 to 1901. Since then, this well-known phrase exhorts business staff to prioritize customer-success needs as the core aspect in their job.

The successful businessmen shared similar strengths: great dynamism, creativity, and the innate ability to run a business efficiently and in a productive manner. The three great business leaders were not only early pioneers in retail, but were also early sources of memorable slogans that emphasized the importance of customer service.

As such, saying attributed to the three entrepreneurs became some of the most famous customer service quotes of their time. Here’s twelve of our favourites:

  • “The customer is always right.” As mentioned, this short five-word quote sums up the importance and necessity of the customer’s happiness over everything else related to the business.
  • “Assume that the customer is right until it is plain beyond all question he is not.” Those that love to regurgitate the first quote in every instance often aren’t aware that Field also placed common-sense restrictions on the catch-all phrase. Basically, go above and beyond to make the customer happy, but also be smart about it.
  • “Give the lady what she wants.” Marshall Field coined the customer service-centric phrase “Give the lady what she wants” to impact on the importance of serving the customer. The phrase was famously used in his store to make the service staff put customer's needs and wants first.
  • “Honesty always pays.” Selfridge’s more-famous quotes tended to focus less on the external and more toward the internal. This particular three-worder was part of a larger quote, but we picked this out because it underlines the importance of how doing the right thing, and having good values will always translate into good business (and good karma, presumably).
  • “When a customer enters my store, forget me. He is king.” John Wanamaker is remembered most for this famous customer-driven quote, Wanamaker worked at Field’s store for more than 20 years, and during that time he breathed and adopted the ideologies by Marshall Field on customer services.
  • “People will sit up and take notice of you if you will sit up and take notice of what makes them sit up and take notice.” Of all of the business motivational quotes by Harry Selfridge, this one is our favorite. This popular phrase playfully repeats a specific phrase so that it makes an intentional impact. It’s fun to say, easy to remember, and points at an undeniable truth in business: customers reward those who understand their needs.
  • “Goodwill is the one and only asset that competition cannot undersell or destroy.” What Field is saying here is that tangible items and money are easily adjusted to bring customers into your store, but it’s the intangibles (e.g. goodwill, courtesy, respect, and dignity) that make the difference.
  • “Get the confidence of the public and you will have no difficulty in getting their patronage.” Focusing on the intangibles again, the first sentence of Harry Gordon Selfridge’s longer, oft-quoted thought on business invokes how critical it is for your company to have the trust and confidence of your customers. Once you have that, everything will fall into place.
  • “Courtesy is the one coin you can never have too much of or be stingy with.” This well-known Wanamaker quote highlighted the constant dilemma with making customers happy — money. Modern day companies struggle with customer service, prioritizing bottom lines and short term goals over customer experience.
  • “Courtesies cannot be borrowed like snow shovels; you must have some of your own.” Wanamaker again emphasizes the importance of providing courtesy. In this famous quote, he points out that care and sincerity cannot be bought, underscoring that excellent customer service requires abstract qualities.
  • “Treat [the customer] as guests when they come and when they go, whether or not they buy.” This Selfridge customer service quote challenges employees to treat all customers as equals — whether they walk out without buying anything, or broke the bank and spent $27 (or $1844 in today dollars).

Wanamaker, Field, and Selfridge were doing business in the 1800 and 1900s, so how do their business motivational quotes and customer service expressions stand up in today’s world? Even with new technology and modern expectations, the quotes hold up surprisingly well, because the key components of excellent customer service haven’t changed.

Today, most modern business institutions have established customer service. Most executives tend to work as hard as possible to ensure their customer needs and expectations are fully met. Newer technologies such as social media, live chat, and real-time texting, have been put in place by most companies to improve their provision of customer service, moving it away from being a cost center to being a profit center.

High-performing service teams understand that the agent experience drives the customer experience.

As such, a lot of prominent business personalities share the same ideologies with the three pioneer entrepreneurs when it comes to customer services. Below are 15 of the best customer service quotes from prominent leaders, CEOs, and Founders in business.

  • Bill Gates, Founder and former CEO of Microsoft, speaks to taking the negatives and turning them into positives for your company: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
  • Dr. Gary P. Hamel, an American Management Expert and an international management consultant explains the long-term benefits of customer service. “Most of us understand that innovation is enormously important. It’s the only insurance against irrelevance. It’s the only guarantee of long-term customer loyalty… It doesn’t matter much where your company sits in its industry ecosystem, nor how vertically or horizontally integrated it is — what matters is its relative ‘share of customer value’ in the final product or solution, and its cost of producing that value.”
  • Elon Musk, former CEO of PayPal, SpaceX Founder, and current CEO of Tesla has this to say about feedback: “I think it's very important to have a feedback loop, where you're constantly thinking about what you've done and how you could be doing it better.”
  • Jeff Bezos, an American investor, founder, and CEO of Amazon.com, believes in the value of customer services. “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
  • Tony Hsieh, Founder and CEO of Zappos, identifies how well treated customers bring in more and better business than traditional advertising. To Tony Hsieh, customer service, advertising, and marketing are essentially the same thing. “We take most of the money that we could have spent on paid advertising and instead put it back into the customer experience. Then we let the customers be our marketing.” (source)
  • Joseph Jaffe founder at Evol8tion touches on customer service’s impact. “Customer Service is everything and anything that touches a customer – directly or indirectly. Customer service means servicing customers, and it's so much more than just solving problems or addressing complaints. Customer service is part of a holistic customer experience that is capable of providing a critical competitive advantage in today's increasingly cluttered and commoditized marketplace.”
  • Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet (Google), demonstrates how morality and responsibility play into the idea of customer service. “We have a mantra: don't be evil, which is to do the best things we know how for our users, for our customers, for everyone.” The original “Don’t Be Evil” was suggested by either Google employee Paul Buchheit or Amit Patel. This company slogan has since been retired and replaced by “Do the right thing.”
  • Marc Benioff, Co-Founder and CEO of salesforce.com, identifies how modern communication channels have become essential to customer service. “The future of communicating with customers rests in engaging with them through every possible channel: phone, email, chat, Web, and social networks. Customers are discussing a company's products and brand in real time. Companies need to join the conversation.” (source)
  • Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group, speaks on the team responsibility of customer service. “Setting customer expectations at a level that is aligned with consistently deliverable levels of customer service requires that your whole staff, from product development to marketing, works in harmony with your brand image.”
  • Sam Walton, Founder of Wal-Mart speaks on the philosophy that every customer is important: “There is only one boss-the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
  • Seymour Fine, the author of The Marketing of Ideas and Social Issues, identifies the value that comes from customer complaints. “When a customer complains, he is doing you a special favor; he is giving you another chance to serve him to his satisfaction. You will appreciate the importance of this opportunity when you consider that the customer's alternative option was to desert you for a competitor.”
  • Shep Hyken, a customer service speaker, speaks on what customer loyalty really is. Hyken demonstrates how relationships are central to customer success. "True loyalty doesn’t come because of an app. It doesn’t come because you have a punch card where after ten punches you get a free sandwich. It is about the relationship. Take away those ‘perks’ and would the customer still be loyal?”
  • Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, speaks on the importance of understanding customer needs. “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”
  • Walt Disney, Founder of Disney, identifies the importance of doing an exceptional job. “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it, they will want to come back and see you do it again, and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”
  • Zig Ziglar, author, salesman, and motivational speaker, speaks on customer complaints, and how they benefit businesses. “Statistics suggest that when customers complain, business owners and managers ought to get excited about it. The complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business.”

As mentioned earlier, the core of providing customer service hasn’t changed even considering it’s been close to two centuries. Even with the speed of technology, many of the same approaches that Marshall Field made famous back in 1852 are applicable to modern companies like Google, Apple, and Zappos.

We know that it takes more than a few inspirational quotes from famous business people to get your customer service process right. Though we listed approximately 30 customer service quotes, the hope is that you can get directional value from successful leaders so to glean best practices. Leverage the core intent of these maxims to help shape your company’s approach to serving your customers.

Focus on the relationship you have with your customers and treat them equally, with dignity, courtesy, and honesty. Know that customer service is more than just solving problems; it’s about knowing your customer expectations in and out. When you know what resonates with your customers, don’t just meet aim to meet their expectations, but exceed their expectations, preferably in unexpected ways.

If you achieve that (and have a good product), everything will fall into place for your business. Marshall Field and Richard Branson would be proud.

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