The Customer Always Right: The Impact of Entitled Consumers on Small Businesses

The adage “the customer is always right” has been a guiding principle in customer service for over a century. This maxim emphasizes the importance of prioritizing customer satisfaction. However, in today’s hyper-competitive market, the interpretation of this principle has evolved, sometimes leading to unintended consequences.

Annoyed customer

This article explores the impact of entitled consumers on small businesses, examining the origins of the “customer is always right” philosophy, its effects on business operations and employee morale, and strategies for balancing customer satisfaction with sustainable business practices.

The Origins of “The Customer Is Always Right”

The phrase “the customer is always right” was popularized by retail magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge to convey the importance of customer service in retail. The underlying idea was to empower employees to prioritize customer satisfaction and resolve complaints in favor of the customer. This approach aimed to build customer loyalty, enhance the shopping experience, and differentiate businesses in a competitive market.

Over time, this philosophy has been adopted across various industries, becoming a cornerstone of customer service. However, as consumer expectations have evolved, the interpretation of this principle has sometimes led to a sense of entitlement among customers, creating challenges for businesses, particularly small enterprises.

The Impact of Entitled Consumers on Small Businesses

Entitled consumers are those who believe they deserve special treatment, often demanding more than what is reasonable or fair. This sense of entitlement can have significant implications for small businesses, affecting their operations, employee morale, and overall sustainability.

1. Operational Challenges

Entitled consumers can create numerous operational challenges for small businesses:

  • Increased Costs: Accommodating unreasonable demands can lead to increased costs for small businesses. This includes providing excessive discounts, refunds, or complimentary services, which can erode profit margins and strain financial resources.
  • Resource Allocation: Addressing the demands of entitled consumers can divert resources away from other critical business activities. This can impact productivity, hinder growth, and limit the ability to serve other customers effectively.
  • Supply Chain Disruptions: Meeting the unique or last-minute requests of entitled consumers can disrupt supply chain operations. This can result in delays, inventory shortages, and increased pressure on suppliers.

2. Employee Morale and Retention

The behavior of entitled consumers can significantly affect employee morale and retention:

  • Stress and Burnout: Dealing with unreasonable demands and difficult customers can lead to stress and burnout among employees. This can impact their mental health, job satisfaction, and overall well-being.
  • Decreased Motivation: Constantly prioritizing the needs of entitled consumers over those of employees can lead to decreased motivation and engagement. Employees may feel undervalued and unsupported, reducing their commitment to the business.
  • High Turnover Rates: Negative interactions with entitled consumers can contribute to high employee turnover rates. Replacing and training new employees can be costly and time-consuming, further straining small businesses.

3. Customer Relationships and Loyalty

While the goal of prioritizing customer satisfaction is to build loyalty, catering to entitled consumers can have the opposite effect:

  • Unfair Advantage: When businesses consistently give in to the demands of entitled consumers, it can create an unfair advantage over other customers. This can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction among loyal, reasonable customers.
  • Negative Reputation: Word of mouth and online reviews play a crucial role in shaping a business’s reputation. Entitled consumers who are not satisfied despite accommodations may leave negative reviews, which can harm the business’s image and deter potential customers.
  • Dependency on Concessions: Continuously accommodating entitled consumers can create a dependency on concessions and freebies. This can set unrealistic expectations and make it challenging to maintain consistent standards of service.

Balancing Customer Satisfaction with Sustainable Practices

To navigate the challenges posed by entitled consumers, small businesses must find a balance between prioritizing customer satisfaction and maintaining sustainable business practices. Here are some strategies to achieve this balance:

1. Set Clear Policies and Expectations

Establishing clear policies and communicating them to customers can help manage expectations and prevent unreasonable demands:

  • Return and Refund Policies: Clearly outline return and refund policies, including conditions and timeframes. Ensure that customers are aware of these policies before making a purchase.
  • Service Standards: Define service standards and communicate them to customers. This includes response times, service availability, and any limitations or conditions.
  • Terms and Conditions: Provide detailed terms and conditions for products and services. This can help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that customers are aware of their rights and responsibilities.

2. Empower Employees

Empowering employees to handle difficult situations and make decisions can improve customer service while maintaining fairness:

  • Training and Support: Provide training on conflict resolution, communication skills, and customer service best practices. Equip employees with the tools and knowledge they need to handle challenging interactions.
  • Decision-Making Authority: Empower employees to make decisions within defined guidelines. This can help them address customer concerns promptly and effectively without needing to escalate every issue to management.
  • Supportive Environment: Foster a supportive work environment where employees feel valued and respected. Recognize and reward their efforts, and provide opportunities for feedback and growth.

3. Prioritize Fairness and Consistency

Ensuring fairness and consistency in customer service can help maintain positive relationships and build trust:

  • Consistent Policies: Apply policies consistently to all customers, regardless of their demands or status. This can prevent perceptions of favoritism and ensure that all customers are treated equitably.
  • Fair Compensation: When addressing complaints or issues, provide fair compensation that aligns with the nature of the problem. Avoid overcompensating to appease entitled consumers, as this can set unrealistic expectations.
  • Transparency: Be transparent about decisions and the rationale behind them. Communicate openly with customers to build trust and understanding.

4. Focus on Building Relationships

Building strong, positive relationships with customers can help mitigate the impact of entitled behavior:

  • Personalized Service: Offer personalized service that demonstrates genuine care and attention. This can help build loyalty and reduce the likelihood of unreasonable demands.
  • Customer Feedback: Actively seek and value customer feedback. Use this feedback to improve products, services, and customer experiences.
  • Loyalty Programs: Implement loyalty programs that reward reasonable, loyal customers. This can incentivize positive behavior and strengthen relationships.

Businesswomen using CRM solutions

The Role of Technology in Managing Customer Interactions

Technology can play a significant role in managing customer interactions and addressing the challenges posed by entitled consumers:

  1. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems: CRM systems can help businesses track customer interactions, preferences, and behavior. This information can be used to personalize service, address issues promptly, and build stronger relationships.
  2. Automated Communication: Automated communication tools, such as chatbots and email responders, can provide immediate responses to common inquiries and manage expectations. This can help reduce the burden on employees and improve response times.
  3. Data Analytics: Analyzing customer data can provide insights into behavior patterns, preferences, and potential issues. Businesses can use this information to identify trends, address recurring problems, and tailor their offerings to meet customer needs.
  4. Online Reviews and Feedback: Monitoring online reviews and feedback can help businesses identify and address issues proactively. Responding to reviews transparently and constructively can demonstrate a commitment to customer satisfaction and build trust.


The principle that “the customer is always right” has been a cornerstone of customer service for decades. However, the rise of entitled consumers poses significant challenges for small businesses, impacting operations, employee morale, and customer relationships. By implementing clear policies, empowering employees, prioritizing fairness, and leveraging technology, small businesses can navigate these challenges and create a balanced approach to customer service.

Ultimately, the goal is to build positive, sustainable relationships with customers while maintaining a healthy and supportive work environment for employees.


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