“The Customer is King” is an old business ideology that posits the importance of customers (and potential customers) to every business. This ideology has helped many businesses become more customer-centered, provide better service and sustain patronage. However, it is often taken out of context and there are instances where it has created more harm than good – giving customers the right to condemn and even jeopardize employees’ livelihoods.

While it is true that without (external) customers a business ceases to exist, one should also consider that an employee is in fact, a customer -albeit an internal one. Employers therefore have a duty of care to provide them with a working environment that ensures that they consistently provide quality service to “deserving” customers.

“The Customer is King” ideology, has created a situation where every customer wants to be treated like royalty – even when they are wrong. Basic human nature is such that no matter what you do, some people are hard to please; some deliberately spoil for a fight; some are unreasonable and irrational, while others simply don’t recognize human dignity. Of course, this does not apply to humanity as a whole but many customers have become emboldened by this mantra to be abusive, condescending and intolerable, believing that throwing a tantrum will get them what they want. It’s like aiding and abetting a known fugitive, exposing yourself and others to risk and possible harm. It may sound harsh but if you think about it critically, serving the interests of a “bad” customer over your employees could also have a negative impact on the working environment. What’s worse, it could affect the relationship between other “good” customers and the business.

You may have heard of the Senator who verbally and physically assaulted a retail shop assistant in Abuja, and even instructed his personal security detail to arrest her. That was an extreme situation because it is also showed abuse of power. There was another instance when a woman verbally assaulted a young salesgirl, who refused to bend the store’s policies on refunds and exchanges. The customer went as far as threatening to call the police to close down the shop because she was a “big woman”. When the Managing Director was called, she reprimanded the salesgirl for not giving the customer what she wanted. How much of a “customer” are you, if this is your constant attitude? Again, how does the salesgirl maintain her composure in future disputes, when doing the right thing in the interest of the business isn’t honoured, simply because the customer is king or in this case queen?

Whether you own a small business or a large conglomerate, you must know that if you place a greater value on your external customers over and above that of your internal customers, even when there is cause to do otherwise, you are creating a hostile environment internally and sending a message that your employees don’t matter. Yet, it is from these same employees, that you expect maximum cooperation. If you train your employees to offer the best service and deal with difficult customers, more often than not, there should be a positive (or civil) outcome. When those “bad” customers show up, your employees will be confident and competent to handle the situation before it gets out of hand. If due process is followed and you still have a disgruntled, unsatisfied customer on your hands, you might just have to sever the business relationship. You are likely to find that some customers are dispensable, after all.

Granted, it is important to meet the requirements of all your clients and ensure that they get value, however, it is also important to show solidarity to those who serve them. In the long term, you will discover that basing your business process on the principle that ‘the customer is always right’, even in situations when they are wrong, will eventually harm the business. Not only will employees feel demoralized and unempowered to defend themselves and the business against offensive customers, but you could also create a bad reputation that could turn away potentially great employees. In life as in business, everything is subject to an upgrade. It is right to treat customers with utmost respect but it is also strategic to support your employees when THEY are in the right. Ultimately, both internal and external customers are essential contributors to a successful business. They are partners in progress and they both deserve dignity and respect.