Why "The Customer is...

2 Minutes Read

Why "The Customer is Always Right" Might be Dead Wrong


“You’re fired.”

Words no leader ever delights to say to an employee. (Well, maybe there’s the rare time when the employee’s behavior was so egregious there’s an element of satisfaction in saying it…but that’s pretty unusual.)

When you’re firing an employee because of a work environment that you created, however, it’s a horrible feeling. 

It’s like watching a literal train wreck happen in front of you and knowing it’s too late to stop it. And just like the NTSB comes in afterward to investigate and determine the causes of the accident and set up protocols so it doesn’t happen again, that’s what I had to do too.

Here’s one of the main causes and lessons learned from that experience.

The train wreck: Two of my direct reports literally threatened each other and ended up having to be separated from the organization. Shortly after that, I had to say “you’re fired” to someone I never expected.

What the investigation undercovered: A wayward emphasis that “the client is always right.”

As clients, we obviously always want things our way, at the lowest price, in the quickest way possible. And, when boundaries aren’t clearly communicated, we sometimes ask for more. And more. And more. 

As the CEO, I believed that keeping the customer happy was my primary job. So I let the requests keep rolling in. And kept asking my team to make it happen. Our best employees started to look for opportunities elsewhere. Newer employees weren’t as connected to our mission and purpose because those were quickly lost in the bustle of keeping up with client requests.

And even at $4MM a year in revenue, we were dwarfed by the size and magnitude of clients 10x plus larger than us. That played into my hesitation of telling them “no.”   

The result: What was once a cohesive and highly functional team eroded under the load of unreasonable client demands. And, as the founding CEO, I let it happen.  

It was clearly a case of a “customer first” mindset leading to unintended consequences when taken to the extreme.  

That’s when I fired myself.

That was a little over five years ago. 

A new CEO today is at the helm of that organization. One who understands the need for client boundaries and how a team-first culture wins in today’s marketplace. He was there with us during those dark days and, I’m sure, took note of what he would do differently if given the chance.  

I’m really proud of what he’s done with our original vision and, more importantly, how he’s changed the culture.  

That’s not just a happy ending to a story, it’s a practical one too. 

As you build your team, keeping a “team-first” mindset is the key to sustainable success...and why you’ll never have to say, “You’re fired” while looking in the mirror.

If fear is holding you back from building your dream team, I can help walk you through it. I’ve been there. It’s a joy to help others avoid the traps I fell into.

Shoot me a text at 1-754-800-9461 and let’s start the conversation about the team you’d love to have.

Picture of Winston Faircloth

Winston Faircloth