The Customer Is – And Always Will Be – King

Leadership Strategies used the following story as an example to try to make a case that customers “aren’t always right”:

“When Citizens Financial Group CEO Larry Fish heard that a customer had treated one of his tellers poorly, he called the customer and suggested that she close her account. Although the customer had $172,000 deposited at the bank, Fish arranged for a check to be mailed to her.”

Leadership Strategies praised Fish not only for protecting his teller but also for making the happiness of his employees his No. 1 priority.

“People work for more than their pocket,” Fish told Ronald Alsop at “You can’t have a successful business without happy employees.”

I don’t know the details — I’m definitely looking at this as an outsider — but it seems to me that Larry Fish,, and Leadership Strategies have gotten things mixed up. Businesses do not exist to make employees happy.

Businesses provide products and/or services to customers. It is the customer who, ultimately, pays the employees’ wages. The employees are getting paid to service the customer. Toward that end, their main job is to make the customer happy.

When we say, “The customer is always right,” we aren’t naive enough to think that this is literally always true. There are many times when a customer may be uninformed, out of line, unrealistic, or downright unpleasant. What we mean is that in any employee-customer transaction, the end result must please the customer, not necessarily the employee.

If you think otherwise, you will destroy your business. If you begin with the idea that your business is about your employees, it’s only a short leap to believing that if your customer interferes with your employees’ happiness, you ought to “fire” him.

That sounds like what might be happening at Mr. Fish’s bank. You can see this employee-first mentality on most airlines today. Whereas once the cabin attendants (Don’t call them stewardesses!) were pleasant and bend-over-backward helpful, they are now self-centered and often belligerent  Hollywood wannabes who have no idea how to do their jobs. (They are, after all, nothing more than glorified waiters and waitresses.)

“One more word out of you, you filthy swine, and I’ll have you manacled and dragged off the plane!”

I recently “softly” fired (i.e., relocated) a business manager who had that kind of attitude. She was hardworking and eager to please her bosses, but she treated her customers as if they had the plague — and within a few short months, every member of her staff was treating them the same way. Eventually, they were treating me like something the cat dragged in. And I was paying their salaries!