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One reason American culture is in such a sorry state today is because the customer is always right.
I have explained on Ricochet before why this aphorism is actually a bad business model. It encourages misbehavior among customers and thereby increases expenses (in turn, increasing prices) while making both customers and employees miserable.
Regular stresses from customers require incentives to retain good workers. If some stresses are avoidable, then so are those costly incentives. As worker satisfaction suffers, so does one’s performance.
Good store customers are not pleased by an environment of loud complaints, litter, displaced products, obstruction, noise, or other auras of perpetual malcontents. Nor are good customers of service industries pleased by long delays and higher prices because nitwits keep hogging employee attention and exploiting every loophole. Then there are costs like an abundance of used products or repairing one’s reputation following false or juvenile reviews.
In truth, any business benefits financially by focusing on reasonable customers while deterring and even excluding the most unreasonable. Also, since a majority of public interactions involve economic activity of some kind, to exclude moral considerations from one’s daily business is to exclude morality from life generally.
If a great portion of our time — economic activity — does not foster good behavior among our neighbors, then it should surprise no one that selfish and immoral activity multiplies.
Not all cultural changes of the past half-century have been for the worse. But much has indeed worsened due to a general shift of moral responsibility in public life from non-legal customs to political and legal authorities. Governments cannot substitute for all, or even most, non-legal sanctions and incentives. Households, neighborhoods, schools, and — yes — businesses all bear some responsibility in maintaining moral expectations.
That partly means telling unreasonable customers they are free to buy elsewhere. In a corrupt society, loyalty is gained among reasonable customers by maintaining a virtuous environment. It’s a place good customers can enjoy, respect, and trust. In a healthier society, more companies making reasonable demands of their customers encourages good behavior all around. Though there is a temptation to demand too much (because we are all called to perfection), it is certainly possible to balance justice with mercy, criticism with tolerance, consequences with invitation.
Granted, we have witnessed what happens when a culture’s morals and/or ethics are commonly corrupted. When the unreasonable becomes normal, the reasonable are the ones unsatisfied, taxed, and excluded. But as misbehavior of governments does not negate the need of some government, so poorly directed or mismanaged non-legal policies and standards should not dissuade us from seeking better ones. We know by experience that our culture can be more disciplined, more generous, and more fruitful than we presently see.
There isn’t business and then real life. It’s all life. Every part of it participates in the formation of persons and, by extension, the communities they embody. Sometimes a customer must be told to act respectfully or else make way for someone ready to be helped.Published in