• Promise Gumbo

Not every customer is King

The other day I was reading a social media post on employee bullying at the workplace, especially by managers. What particularly drew my attention was a comment by one the contributors who, while claiming she was “not a bully boss” pointed out that she instructs her staff to always accede to client demands because, in her words, “clients are always right no matter what”. Responding, I reasoned that while staff had a duty to meet client needs, some clients could be bullies too. Therefore, to turn a blind eye on the mistreatment of employees by clients under a blanket assertion that customers were always right was itself a form of employee bullying and abuse.

While at it, I remembered my own experience where a client for whom I was conducting research requested (pronounced demanded) that I do something that, quite literally, amounted to compiling findings before the data had even been collected. I clearly could not do that because it was impossible, unless we first redefined the research process and revised research ethics too. And yet my boss highlighted that my refusal to grant that particular demand had the potential of jeopardizing the prospect of repeat business from the client in question. The message, effectively, was that clients could make such ridiculous demands so long as they continued to give us business.

It goes without saying that business growth depends on its ability to attract and retain customers. But even as business strives to grow its customer base it must still recognize that not every customer will be good for it. Business owners will quickly acknowledge that clients who delay or default on paying for products or services rendered are bad customers. But many of them are reluctant to acknowledge that clients who unduly distress employees are potentially bad customers for the business too. Ultimately, the costs of running a business on the back of a distressed and demotivated workforce may outweigh the incoming revenue due to high staff turnover, among other factors. In any case, it is not prudent diverting human and material resources to undeserving cases at the expense of deserving ones.

On a related note, and talking as a market researcher, one of the things we commonly measure for businesses is customer satisfaction. In such surveys, although most of the dissatisfied customers have a good reason for being discontented, among them are customers who are in fact not good for business to start with. The problem is that we usually are unable to isolate the “bad” customers from among the dissatisfied customers. Doing so would create a clearer picture since it would be in the interest of the business to terminate the relationship with such customers anyway.


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