‘Customer is King’ is so 1985

Robert Craven accepts that his trusty catchphrase may be somewhat outdated – but argues that the principle behind it is still very valid

robert_craven_crop“You cannot say ‘Customer is King’ in this day and age…”, that was the feedback I was given recently… “It’s so 1985.”

My critics went on to explain how the phrase reminded them of faceless 1980’s open plan offices littered with banal, positive thinking platitudes like “We’re stronger together!”, “There’s no I in team!” and “Customer is King!” all with compulsory exclamation marks.

At first, I wasn’t sure if the criticisms didn’t say more about the background and history of the critic than about the three little words but now I am not so sure.

If offering great customer service is so obvious, why don’t we do it more?

It feels like the obvious is being stated when we are told, “You should concentrate all your efforts on the needs and wants of your customer. Design everything through their eyes… create a brilliant customer experience so they’ll come back wanting more.” However, if it is so obvious, then why do so few people do it?

Clearly, 90% of our own customer experiences do not make us feel that the customer is king (or queen or whatever). Although many organisations have made real progress, many seem to have gone in the opposite direction and pay little or no heed to the wants, needs or aspirations of their buying public. Some even celebrate their lack of attention to the customer experience in the pursuit of rock-bottom prices.

Well, what I do get is that the phrase is not as of the moment as CE, CX, or CEM, (and if you have to ask then it shows just how behind the curve you are!).

A dated phrase but a valid message

While the phrase may seem a little dated, I did also have a simpler problem. Way back in 2002, I wrote the book, ‘Customer is King’. It was good enough that Sir Richard Branson wrote a foreword for it. As it happens, it has just been updated and published on Kindle. As it is the title of my book, I do feel committed to using the phrase.

12 years on, most people get what the phrase means and also they understand that the phrase is dashed with a slight twist of irony. It is clear for all to see that we rarely feel that the customer is king.

So, should I get in with the young trendies and rename the book or should I stick with ‘Customer is King’? Well, maybe I don’t have much choice as far as the book is concerned. But as a matter of positioning, maybe the critics have a point.

The phrase has been over-used (but so has “profit is vanity, cash is sanity”.) However, the real question is whether the phrase imparts its full meaning. Personally, I think it probably does. But then again you are my customer, and only your opinion really matters, so what do you think?

Robert Craven is an entrepreneur, businessman and author. His latest book is Grow Your Service Firm. He is managing director of The Directors’ Centre. www.directorscentre.com

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