Products and services can’t exist without the people who use them, putting customers in the driver’s seat when it comes to business, a notion which is solidified in the tired statement, “the customer is always right.”

And as someone who has worked in the service industry for nearly half a decade, in one capacity or another, I’m here to tell you that it’s an outdated and unhealthy way of running a business… for everyone involved.

It’s an outdated and unhealthy way of running a business.

I’m hardly the first person to point this out. The abuse of customer service staff is notorious, especially in big cities, where having a skinny cappuccino (served with just the right amount of foam and chocolate dust) before rushing off to some business meeting, or making snide comments to a waiter about the prices on the menu, supersedes people’s sense of humility.

“I’ll have the salmon, make sure it’s pink. But I don’t want broccoli, I want artichokes.”

“We can definitely do that for you, ma’am, but more expensive substitutions do cost $2. Is that okay?”

“No. No, it’s not okay. I’m already paying $20 for it. That’s outrageous.” 

When the time comes for dessert, of course, she wants something other than the tiramisu that explicitly comes with the set menu. The chef is now also annoyed with me but begrudgingly offers an apple tart. The customer accepts this, but only if she can also have a scoop of ice cream. 

Bad reviews are bad for business.

This sort of entitled behavior continues through to her coffee order, and despite going out of my way to make her happy, she decided from the second she walked through the door that nothing would be “enough.”

After being yelled at for the restaurant’s no refill policy and told to smile more, I’m on edge for the rest of the dinner service, and it makes me forgetful and sloppy. My manager says there will be consequences if we get a bad review.

“Bad reviews are bad for business.

This is one example of the many soul-sucking scenarios that customer service workers deal with on a daily basis, and they do so whilst constantly being told by their superiors to grin and bear it. 

Working in the industry, you’re quite literally at the mercy of your customers; all it takes is one negative interaction to really change the trajectory of your mood (and workflow) for the rest of the shift.

Dealing with people is stressful.

After all, you’re juggling different personalities and emotional states at a rate which, even for the most extroverted people, is incredibly exhausting. And if you thought managing people and their expectations weren’t hard enough already, the rise of social media has made it even trickier to navigate customer disputes.

This is due to something that I have started to call  “review anxiety.” 

Customers have never been as powerful as they are now.

In the past, disgruntled patrons could only communicate with companies through writing a letter, making a phone call, or showing up in person. Now, social media permeates our everyday lives, and it’s a force to be reckoned with.

Customers have never been as powerful as they are now, with platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Yelp allowing them to share potentially damaging reviews with the world at the mere click of a button. Evidently, the customer is always right, even when they know they’re wrong. And that is a seriously damaging precedent. 

The bottom line is that business crowns money as the king. Aside from the negative implications that this can have on employee happiness and work ethic, it also raises important questions regarding the institutions, both physical and philosophical, that are so prevalent in our society. 

“The customer is always right” permits a childlike mentality that if you scream (or type) loudly enough, you get what you want, giving particularly abrasive customers an unfair advantage. It can also perpetuate a cycle of abuse, kind of like the chain of screaming that Barney Stinson talks about in How I Met Your Mother. 

Customers are sometimes wrong.

The truth is, customers are sometimes wrong, and not just wrong, they’re often assholes, despite businesses going to ridiculous extents to meet their expectations. I have come to the conclusion that there are just some people who are determined to be displeased, and those people need to be told when they’re crossing the line.

Besides, putting your employees first will almost definitely mean that they’ll do the same for your customers – the ones that actually matter. 

All in all, critical thinking and healthy debates are actively avoided in favor of an out-dated philosophy that appeals to customers’ overzealous sense of entitlement. Alas, the notion that the customer is always right is only a symptom of a bigger problem – modern society is built on disingenuousness.  

  • Shaima Alterkawi

    Shaima is a Saudi/American writer, rocker, and traveler with a BSc from the University of Birmingham, UK. and currently working towards an MSc in Psychology at UCL. Born and raised in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Shaima associates writing with freedom. She is passionate about finding meaning in the mundane and welcomes the opportunity to work with fellow creatives. In her free time, you'll probably find her dancing, attending live music events, drinking hot chocolate, talking to strangers or writing poetry.