Is the Customer Really King?

The adage “The customer is always right” has been a cornerstone of business philosophy for over a century, symbolizing the importance of customer satisfaction and service in the retail industry. This principle, often expanded to the notion that the customer is king, encapsulates a business ethos that prioritizes customer needs and experiences above all else. But how did this phrase come to be, and is its essence truly reflective of today’s customer-centric business landscape?

The Origins of “The Customer is King”

The phrase “The customer is always right” was popularized by several pioneering retailers at the turn of the 20th century, including Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker, and Marshall Field. These businessmen revolutionized retail by advocating for customer complaints to be taken seriously to prevent customers from feeling cheated or deceived at a time when misrepresentation was common​​. This customer-first approach was a significant departure from the prevalent “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware) attitude.

Interestingly, the phrase’s variations also reflect cultural interpretations of customer service, with “der Kunde ist König” (the customer is king) used in Germany and “okyakusama wa kamisama desu” (the customer is a god) in Japan, underscoring the global influence of prioritizing customer satisfaction​​.

The Evolution of Customer Centrality in Business

Over the years, the concept that the customer is king has evolved beyond a mere slogan to become a foundational aspect of business models across various industries. This evolution is evident in the way companies have restructured their operations and strategies to put customer experience at the core of their profitability.

For instance, companies like Eurostar have overhauled their call centre operations to focus on building rapport with customers, moving away from traditional metrics like call length or sales conversions. This shift recognizes that a poor customer experience can significantly impact brand loyalty and profitability, as evidenced by studies indicating that half of all negative customer experiences leading to brand abandonment occur in call centres​​.

Moreover, businesses that have successfully integrated customer experience into their operations share common traits: a consensus at the board level that customer experience must meet expectations and the communication of this goal across all staff levels. This approach ensures that the strategic objectives align with day-to-day operations, directly impacting customer satisfaction and, by extension, the company’s bottom line​​.

The Role of Reviews in Upholding the Customer Kingdom

In the digital age, customer reviews have become a critical component of the customer-centric business model. Reviews not only offer businesses insights into customer experiences but also serve as a trust-building mechanism with prospective customers. Positive reviews can significantly enhance a company’s reputation and attract new customers, while negative reviews offer valuable feedback for improvement and demonstrate a company’s commitment to addressing customer concerns.

The democratization of customer feedback through online reviews has further elevated the status of customers, reinforcing the notion that the customer is indeed king. Businesses today are more transparent and accountable to their customers than ever before, with customer satisfaction metrics and review scores often influencing purchasing decisions.


The principle that “the customer is always right,” and by extension, that the customer is king, has undoubtedly shaped the evolution of customer service and business operations. As the business landscape continues to evolve, the essence of this philosophy remains relevant: prioritizing customer satisfaction is not just ethical but also a strategic imperative for business success.

In a world where customer experiences and reviews can make or break a business, the customer’s crown has never been more powerful. It’s a reminder that in the realm of business, the throne belongs to those who listen, adapt, and serve their customers with unwavering dedication.