June 24, 2018

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The Customer is Not King

In most firms the salience of internal issues out shines the needs of customers. When you are busy restocking bookstore shelves, the last thing you want is some bothersome customer trying to buy a book. This natural failing of organizations has led to the worthy idea that organizations need to be customer focused. However, worthy ideas tend to get tarnished over time. This idea has become malicious for at least three reasons.

The most offensive aspect of "the customer is king" is that it has turned many people into obnoxious gits. Too many people see it as their right to treat front-line staff like dirt. Do I need to argue that yelling at a waitperson or shop assistant is unacceptable? Organizations need to protect their front-line staff from these kinds of customers.

The second offensive aspect of "the customer is king" is that organizations use it to deny responsibility for their actions. The idea that organizations are mere servants to the popular will is nonsense. We should not allow our organization's integrity to suffer on the excuse, "The customer made me do it."

The third, and final problem with "the customer is king" ideology is that it can be bad for business. As Gallup and others have stated, the employee comes first. If you have satisfied employees you have a good shot at having satisfied customers. Without satisfied employees the chances that customers will be happy are slim. Here HR has a central role to play as an advocate of the employees.

HR must be vigilant in patrolling the boundaries of common wisdom and ensuring that worthy ideas do not turn against the interests of our employees and organizations.

-David Creelman