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The Customer Royalty Complex: Balancing Service & Respect

The phrase "the customer is king and queen" has long been a guiding principle in customer service. This idea, rooted in the belief that businesses should prioritize customer satisfaction above all else, has shaped service interactions for decades. While a customer-centric approach can lead to loyal patrons and positive word-of-mouth, it's time to re-evaluate the potential downsides of this philosophy.

The Customer Royalty Complex: Balancing Service & Respect

This article will explore the origins of the "customer royalty" concept, its impact on employees and businesses, and strategies for fostering a more balanced, respectful service dynamic.


The notion of the customer as royalty dates back to the early 20th century, when retailers like Marshall Field and Selfridges popularized slogans such as "the customer is always right" and "the customer is king." These catchphrases emphasized the importance of catering to customer needs and desires. Treating customers like royalty can increase satisfaction, loyalty, and positive reviews. Happy customers are more likely to return and recommend a business to others.

The Downside of "Customer Royalty"

However, the "customer is king and queen" mentality can have significant negative consequences. When taken to extremes, it can create an imbalance in the customer-employee dynamic, leading to stress, burnout, and decreased job satisfaction among service workers.

Psychological research has shown that dealing with entitled or abusive customers can take a serious toll on employee well-being. A study by the University of British Columbia found that service employees who frequently face mistreatment from customers are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion, decreased job performance, and even physical health problems.

Moreover, the "customer royalty" approach can inadvertently enable unreasonable behavior and a sense of entitlement among some patrons. When customers feel they have unlimited power, they may make excessive demands, disregard company policies, or behave disrespectfully towards staff. This dynamic can decrease overall service quality as employees struggle to manage difficult interactions while maintaining a facade of subservience.

Shifting the Perspective

Mutual Respect with Customers and staff
Mutual Respect with Customers and staff

To create a healthier, more sustainable service environment, shifting away from the "customer royalty" paradigm and towards a model based on mutual respect is crucial. Instead of framing customers as all-powerful monarchs, businesses can position them as valued partners or guests.

This perspective acknowledges the importance of customer satisfaction while recognizing service employees' expertise and dignity. Customer service becomes a skilled collaboration, with both parties working together to find solutions and create positive experiences. Businesses can foster a more equitable and empowering service dynamic by emphasizing respect and partnership.

Practical Strategies for Businesses and Employees

Implementing this shift requires practical strategies and support from both businesses and individual employees. Companies can start by setting clear boundaries and expectations through well-defined policies. This might include guidelines for acceptable customer behavior, procedures for handling complaints, and protocols for escalating difficult situations to management.

Empowering employees with conflict resolution and de-escalation skills is also essential. Training programs can teach techniques for remaining calm, actively listening, and finding mutually beneficial solutions. By equipping staff with these tools, businesses can help them navigate challenging customer interactions with confidence and professionalism.

Furthermore, it is crucial to prioritize the mental well-being of customer service representatives. This may involve providing access to employee assistance programs, encouraging work-life balance, and fostering a supportive team environment. When employees feel valued and supported, they are better equipped to handle the emotional demands of service roles.

The Value of Positive Customer Experiences

Shifting towards a more balanced, respectful service model doesn't mean sacrificing customer satisfaction. Research shows that building positive rapport and creating excellent service experiences can benefit businesses.

A Harvard Business Review study found that customers with the best past experiences with a company spend 140% more than those with poor experiences. Additionally, a survey by American Express revealed that 7 in 10 U.S. consumers say they've spent more money with a company that delivers excellent service.

Cultivating a reputation for respectful, high-quality service can also increase customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth. In the age of social media and online reviews, a company's service reputation can significantly impact its success.


As we reconsider the "customer is king and queen" philosophy, it's clear that a commitment to service excellence doesn't have to mean treating customers like royalty. By fostering a mutual respect culture and empowering customers and employees, businesses can create a more balanced, sustainable service dynamic.

This approach recognizes the value of positive customer experiences while prioritizing the well-being and dignity of service workers. When everyone feels respected and supported, better solutions can be found, and stronger, more loyal customer relationships can be built.

Ready to take your customer service to the next level? Check out our Customer Service Bootcamp at VIP Protocol. Our expert-led program teaches proven strategies for delivering exceptional service with a genuine smile, even in the face of complex challenges. Empower your team with the skills they need for long-term success. Contact us today to learn more!


Jeannie Vaage, Etiquette Consultant, VIP Protocol
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