We’ve all heard the business mantra that the customer is king. It describes the importance customers have to business, and the resulting need to provide good services to them.
While we can probably all agree that our customers are important and that we need to provide great service to them, does the mantra “the customer is king” make sense? And should those of us who work in B2C (business-to-customer) act like it?
Let me give a personal example: Recently, I disappointed a client. This person had rather unrealistic expectations on how quickly and often I could be available for them, given the limited service they had picked and how it was described.
I explained that to them and they quit (which was honestly a relief).
Is that how I would treat a king?
The truth is that it probably depends on whether we’re talking “Game of Thrones” model of kingship or today’s more fashionable representative monarchies. In the first case, I’d probably do whatever is necessary to keep my head… including catering to unreasonable whims.
But is that really the associations we want to have with our customers? A relationship dynamic that’s based on power imbalance and, well, fear?
(And if that’s what we want our work life to look like, wouldn’t it be easier to just get a job so we can have someone else tell us what to do?)
Why we should stop saying that the customer is king
People might say that calling a customer ‘king’ is just a metaphor… but metaphors have some power over our thinking. They can shape how we see the world and how we act.
I propose that seeing customers as kings does a disservice to us, and a disservice to them.
Let me explain: kingship is generally a hereditary position and traditionally the highest station in a community. As such, it’s both rather passive (people become kings because of circumstances of their birth, not their merit) and static (once you’ve reached the highest station in an inflexible system, where do you go?).
That’s why I see my clients as something else entirely: I see them as the hero in the story.
The customer is the hero, not the king
Here's why this is a better metaphor: unlike a king, a hero by definition has a goal she wants to reach or a quest she is on. As such, there is an element of both movement and potential upward mobility in her situation. That your customer is on a heroic adventure (the "hero's journey") also implies that she needs support for that quest.
That’s where business can come in. As entrepreneurs, we can offer support for people who are on a quest to improve their lives or the lives of others.
Perhaps they want to start a side business to make additional income. Or lose weight to feel healthier. They might want to learn a new language so they can move abroad. Or increase search engine traffic to their website to grow their audience.
Depending on what our businesses focus on, we can be their mentors or their allies on that quest. We can offer tools they need to slay their dragon and capture the prize.
Isn’t that a more exciting and empowering way of seeing the relationship between business and customer?
What seeing customers as heroes instead of kings does for the customer relationship:
Seeing your customer as heroes on a quest elevates both them and the services you are providing.
When I see a client as a hero, I have tremendous respect for them. It takes courage to want to change something in our lives and a hero is willing to go for it.
It also paints the relationship between entrepreneur and customer as one of trust and mutual respect. You’re not just a freelancing copywriter, you’re someone who helps make the words of an upcoming writer sparkle and shine.
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