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Loyalty to Customers vs. Loyalty to Employees: The Biggest Mistake a Manager Can Make

I’ve become a fairly active redditor of late and three of my favorite subreddits are /TalesFromRetail, /TalesFromYourServer, and /TalesFromTheFrontDesk. Though these subs have helped me to become a much more patient and understanding customer, the reason I enjoy them most is for the stories of absolutely appalling behavior that the people in the retail, service, and hospitality industries have to put up with from customers. I suppose it’s a bit like the internet version of rubbernecking.

What I find truly horrifying is the fact that most of these customers don’t face any consequences for their actions. In fact, they’re often compensated for it!

Too many times these stories paint a picture of badly behaved patrons being rewarded by managers who are either afraid to receive a negative review or lose a customer completely. Meanwhile, composed — and often mistreated — employees have given reasonable answers/solutions to these irate, irrational customers, only to be overridden by their supervisor. Not only does this destroy employee engagement, it also shatters any trust they may have had in management.

Though it may seem like a radical idea, in order to create the best customer experience, you have to put your employees first. Let’s take a closer look.

Choosing Customers Over Employees Can Hurt Your Bottom Line

To side with those who are actively giving you money seems sensible. After all, the more money you bring in, the more likely you are to make a profit. However, giving into unreasonable customer demands just to keep them coming back can actually cost you in the long run. Here’s why:

It Undermines Trust Between Management and Employees

By indicating that the customer is always right, you set employees and customers against each other — and the customer always comes out on top. This gives rise to a number of serious problems.

  • It undermines employee authority and autonomy.
  • It shows that management doesn’t trust employees to deal with difficult situations in an appropriate manner.
  • It demonstrates that management supports customers over employees.
  • It causes employees to resent management.

Your employees are the first stop for angry customers — they know exactly what these patrons are out to get and how they’ve behaved up to this point. If you walk into an active situation and give into customer demands without hearing your employee out first, you’ll only end up destroying engagement and trust.

According to the University of Southern California, 60 percent of employees are unsatisfied with their relationship with their immediate supervisor, while 73 percent are unsatisfied with the level of trust between employees and senior management. That’s a pretty big disconnect. In order to create an environment of trust, you need to show your employees that you respect their judgment, will support them when needed, and won’t let customers abuse them.

It Leads to Poor Customer Service

It’s a proven fact; happy employees equal happy customers. An “employees first” attitude generates engaged workers who have more energy, are more motivated, and care more about other people, including customers. According to Villanova University, highly engaged employees respond 90 percent favorably to the question, “Are my coworkers dedicated to providing exceptional service to our clients/customers?”

However, when management routinely chooses the side of unreasonable customers over that of their employees, it makes it evident that:

  • Treating employees fairly is not important to management
  • Employees have no right to respect from customers
  • Customers are allowed to abuse employees
  • Employees are not valued by management or their company

Employees who are disrespected, abused, and undervalued do not provide top notch customer service. They no longer care about their customers or their jobs. Once they’ve reached this point, an unhappy, unengaged employee can end up ruining multiple customer experiences and tainting your business’s reputation.

It Creates a Bad Experience for Other Customers

Irate, rude, and abusive customers don’t just make your employees miserable, they also make other customers extremely uncomfortable. When a customer loses their temper, swears, screams, or starts damaging merchandise, everyone in the vicinity wants to flee the scene as soon as possible. No one wants to be in that situation, especially in the current climate when acts of mass violence are happening at an alarming rate.

If you regularly put up with badly behaved customers, you’re allowing troublesome and upsetting situations to continually affect your more civil patrons. Furthermore, as a customer, I can tell you this: When I see employees being mistreated by management, whether it be directly or indirectly (such as siding with an abusive customer), I stop doing business with that company — and I share that experience with others. Everyone, no matter where they are in the hierarchy of an organization, deserves to be treated with respect.

The Customer Isn’t Always Right

When they hear the slogan “the customer is always right,” opportunistic customers can (and will) demand just about anything. This makes employees’ jobs extremely difficult and allows abusive people to get better treatment and conditions than kind and respectful customers.

Unfortunately there’s no way to completely avoid these kind of customers, but before you capitulate to their demands, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this customer have a record of complaining or unreasonable requests?
  • Does this customer cost more money, time and energy than others?
  • Does this customer continue to take advantage of your product, service, or policies despite your efforts to improve the experience?
  • Has this customer belittled, threatened, or personally attacked your employees?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then it’s time to cut your losses and send them packing. Your business does not exist solely to cater to the expectations of one poorly behaved customer; you have to accommodate hundreds (or thousands) of other patrons as well. You also need to support your employees — after all, they’re the ones that keep your business running. Don’t put all of your time and energy into one customer when it comes at the expense of others.


It’s unfortunate, but there are a lot of people who take common services for granted, abuse their privileges, and treat employees like dirt. It’s time we stop rewarding this kind of vile behavior from customers. To keep your staff happy, effective, and engaged, you have to offer them proper support and respect their judgment. The next time you’re faced with choosing between your employee or an irrational customer, side with your employee.

Liz Greene on Twitter
Liz Greene
Contributor: Liz Greene is a writer, marketing professional, and full blown pop culture geek from the beautiful City of Trees, Boise, ID. When not stalking the aisles of her local Ulta, she can be found shoveling down sushi while discussing the merits of the latest Game of Thrones fan theories. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene, or check out her latest post on Three Broke Bunnies.

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Contributor: Liz Greene is a writer, marketing professional, and full blown pop culture geek from the beautiful City of Trees, Boise, ID. When not stalking the aisles of her local Ulta, she can be found shoveling down sushi while discussing the merits of the latest Game of Thrones fan theories. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene, or check out her latest post on Three Broke Bunnies.

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