The Customer Is Not Always Right

By Mac M. Martirossian, CPA

At the risk of committing heresy, especially with my own core values, the reality is that the customer is not always right.  I am a firm believer of the business pyramid for world class organizations, which puts the customer at the top, the associates on the bottom left and the company on the bottom right.  World class companies do not rotate the pyramid, to move the interests of customers or the company to the top.  But sometimes this hierarchy gets abused.

For example, a discount retailer mandates that attendants at their self service gas station leave their booths whenever a customer is pumping gas.  On a recent visit at 6:00 am, with the temperature at 18 degrees, the attendant followed the company rule to the letter.  No words exchanged; no value added by this “out of the booth” experience.  Just pain and suffering for the associate.

As the economy has tightened, some customers have become unrealistic with their expectations.  Delighting the customer is never easy, and in this economy where consumer spending is guarded even more challenging as “the customer is King” has been replaced with “the customer is God”.

At the same time, the associate serving those customers has been left in a state of constant anxiety over job loss, more work for the same pay, more hours and less pay per hour, and a soar tongue from biting down harder and with greater frequency.

Customer loyalty has been shunned, as the consumer trades value and service for lower cost and cheaper prices.  In the meantime, the associate stays loyal, sometimes due to lack of jobs, but more often because of pride and dedication to their employer.

It’s time to rotate the business pyramid.

  • Value your associate capital.  Chances are you have let the low performers go and thus have your best staff at your side.  Treat them as an asset that needs to be nurtured.  Don’t be so manically customer focused that you lose sight of your teammates.
  • Maintain a healthy balance.  Without a healthy and vibrant workforce, we will never be able to delight the customer.  Be razor sharp in taking sides.  Associates need to understand the rationale for irrational customer concessions and that they are not the ones who will pay the price.
  • Reward your associates equally with customers.  Cash is tight, and whatever you do have is going to customer acquisition, service or promotions.  Associates understand that, as long as you are willing to recognize their accomplishments with sometime as simple as a congratulatory letter on their contributions.

The economy is turning and will get even stronger.  Make sure your associates are by your side…and not chasing a buck somewhere else.

Leave a reply

PMI Logo1 Powered by, Inc. | Copyright © 2007 - 2018,, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.

"PMBOK, PMI, PMP and REP" are trademarks, service marks or certification marks of the Project Management Institute Inc. Inc. | 3500 Lenox Road, Suite 1500 | Atlanta, GA 30326 | 404-815-4644