The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Being of service

At the beginning of the last century, several well-known retailers coined sentences like “the customer is always right” or “the customer is king.” They did so at a time when the “caveat emptor” principle was the habit. It meant “let the buyer beware” and was also to be found in the law. To transform that mindset and reach a point where customers’ requests and complaints would be taken seriously, they needed to present a simple idea that would do the trick. Suggesting that the “customer is always right” was a way to somehow turn things upside down. Where responsibility had been mainly with the buyer, they now wanted to come to a stage where responsibility would be shared.

However, in the long run, they couldn’t prevent, that the old hierarchy would indeed be turned upside down. One could use the image of a boss and subordinate relationship, or maybe even the one of a master and slave relationship as an association. Using it, then the seller used to be the boss and the customer was the subordinate. Over the years, with the desire to become more and more perfect at it, the idea that the customer is always right transformed that relationship. It became the idea that the seller is the subordinate and the customer the boss.

What happened was that the context slowly changed while using the idea that the customer is always right. Where it had been normal that the customer had to pay attention before buying, they got used to support and appreciated it. But that dynamic remained, and customers started to want more and more support until the responsibility had shifted to the seller.

It’s a mindset that has also found its way into the law.

But the tipping point was reached, and terms of services have become endless. Sellers search for ways to protect themselves from customers who behave as if they were always right.


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