Christian life

The Customer Is Always Righteous

[This old article seemed worth resurrecting for today. Businesses are shorthanded, have inexperienced workers, have supply-chain issues … Customers/Clients (maybe having their own troubles) can all too easily lose patience. But we Christians have the responsibility—and the privilege!—of remembering who we are.]


I’ve never left a cranky clerk. That’s right. I’ve met many cranky clerks, but I’ve never left one. About 1993 I began the little ministry of transforming cranky clerks into cheerful ones. Why this particular challenge?

(1) I was in pain and distress myself at the time. Able to spot tension a mile away, I sympathized and wanted to rescue others from suffering.

(2) Several years on the mission field taught me never to assume that people know the Lord. Wouldn’t you be cranky if you didn’t know the Lord?

(3) I was already programmed to be on the side of clerks. Daddy and Uncle Del were in business. As a teenager working for them, I’d seen firsthand what it was like to deal with the public:

  • One intimidating customer insisted his window screen be repaired “by this afternoon!” He didn’t come back to pick it up for two years.
  • Customers came in with sob stories. Uncle Del gave them 10 percent off—and then they wrote bad checks.
  • One mother let her toddler use the car keys to make a long scratch across a new refrigerator. Another allowed Junior to rearrange all the nuts and bolts in the hardware bins.
  • Longtime friends opted to drive farther to the warehouse “discount” store, where they happily paid $2.99 for a little paintbrush Daddy stocked for $1.65.
  • Nervy folks demanded a full refund on goods they had damaged.
  • Customers wanted their purchases discounted, gift-wrapped, and delivered … for free.

The frustrations of clerks make sense to anyone who has stood behind the counter.

I guess all those factors clicked the day I was in Carrington’s. It seemed unusually busy. I stepped up to the checkout, wondering what the occasion was, when the clerk barked, “Where’s your turkey?!”

It was a strange thing to say to a customer holding a pair of black slacks.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your turkey!” She furiously waved a cardboard turkey cutout in my face. “It was in the newspaper.”

I still didn’t know what she was ranting about, but I knew this woman was having a terrible day. Then the thought came: Win her over.

“Oh, honey,” I said, “I haven’t read my paper for a week. What turkey?”

“The Thanksgiving discount coupon for today only.”

“Well, I don’t have one. And anyway, these slacks are such a good price. I certainly wouldn’t expect a further discount.”

She softened. Turning to my son, she said, “Go back to the manager’s office and tell them Margie said to give you a turkey.”

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” I protested.

She held up her hand. “It’s OK. You’re the kind of people who deserve the savings.”

While my son was gone, I pressed a little: “Looks like you’re having quite a day.”

She shook her head and lowered her voice confidentially. “You wouldn’t believe it.” She went on to explain that the store had failed to include the phrase “one per customer” on the turkey coupons. People were driving all over town to buy newspapers so they could cash in flocks of turkeys. That explained the crowd—bloodthirsty turkey hunters!

I leaned toward her. “I know it’s tough dealing with the public,” I explained, as my son returned with our turkey. “Daddy owned a business.”

My turkey indicated a “25 percent off” discount. “You got a good one!” chirped my clerk.

I finished with, “Well, thank you so much. My son desperately needed these slacks for the band concert.”

As I walked away, I could hear the clerk happily greeting her next customer: “Hi! Did you find everything you needed today?”

I smiled to myself. Mission accomplished.

You’ve heard the slogan “The customer is always right.” But as Christian customers, maybe we need to aim more for being righteous than being right. “As God’s chosen people … clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). We are God’s ambassadors. When we behave badly, we damage our reputation and, worse, his good name.

So how can we be better customers?

Be a hero. Some clerks, while not cranky, seem uninterested in helping customers. Let’s not simply label such people jerks. A lackluster clerk must have something else on his plate. If life were going well, he’d be more enthusiastic.

At a convention some years ago, three of us were at breakfast when one of our group asked the pale waitress, “Is there anything we could pray about for you?” Tears came to her eyes as she explained, “As a matter of fact, my son is facing brain surgery.” Prayers—and a huge tip—were offered in Jesus’ name.

Our world is full of hurting people: people in crisis, people in grief, people at work when they ought to be home in bed. Rude behavior on our part adds to their pain, does not show them the Lord, and does nothing for us. We must “continue in [the Lord’s] kindness” (Romans 11:22), which can work wonders.

Be a missionary. No matter what type of clerk serves you, assume that the clerk doesn’t know the Lord. You have these few moments to be a witness, to make a difference. Don’t mess it up.

The apostle Paul said, “I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:33–11:1). We mustn’t claim to know God but then, by our actions, deny him (Titus 1:16).

Be like Jesus. Some cranky clerks are worn down by trying to please the never-satisfied American public. How many rude, demanding, loud, sneering, threatening customers can a body handle in one day? day after day? week after week? Sometimes they snap. But we can refrain from snapping back. “When they hurled their insults at [Jesus], he did not retaliate” (1 Peter 2:23). If Jesus could be kind even from the cross, surely we can control ourselves when the situation is no more serious than a mix-up in the color of T-shirt or size of soda we wanted.

Bottom line? “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:10). A righteous customer feels rich paying out generous amounts of kindness to every clerk. And the Lord throws in a variety of rewards. He might even see that you get a 25 percent discount in spite of the fact that you failed to bring your turkey.

As long as you aren’t acting like one.

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© Lynn Lusby Pratt, revised August 2023. First published as “Making Change,” The Lookout, 12/07/2003; then as “The Customer Is Always Righteous,” Seek, 11/07/2004.


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1 thought on “The Customer Is Always Righteous

  1. Thanks for this reminder to be kind to surly clerks. So many people are stressed these days that our witness is more important than ever. Have a blessed and Merry Christmas.

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