The beginning – Customer is king
In the start of the 20th century, successful retailers such as Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field promoted the importance of taking care of the customer by giving precedents to the service element of retail by responding to customer complaints vigilantly.
It is believed Harry Gordon himself coined the phrase “the customer is always right”.
In simpler terms, if a customer is treated like a king, they will be loyal which will help a business grow. This thinking gave birth to the slogan ‘Customer is king’.
Customer is king = Business growth
The slogan took the business world soon and few countries had its twist to the slogan. For instance, “der Kunde ist König” commonly used in Germany translates to the customer is king, while in Japan “okyakusama wa kamisama desu” translates “the customer is a god”.
The transition – Employee is king
In 2000 as well as today many brands and corporates focus on the notion ‘customer is king’ in its messaging. Without placing the customer as the centre, a corporate could not grow. However, few global corporates such as Google and Virgin Atlantic while focusing on the notion ‘customer is king’ continued its unparalleled service, while they understood ‘customer’ had two segments. This changed the norm for business growth once again.
The external customer who is the end-user and the internal customer, the employees. The employee was given the high seat. In the words of Richard Branson: “Companies should put employees first.” Thus, employee is king made precedence in top businesses globally. The thinking was, if you treat your employees as kings, they will treat your customers as kings.
However, in the equation for business growth, the customer is still the key variable. The change in the new notion was the organisation focus more on the employees so that the employee will focus more on the customer.
Employee is king = Customer is king = Business growth
In the event, the organisation focusses on customers and neglects the employee. That’s an equation for disaster.
Employee < Customer is king = Customer is not king = Business decline
Post-COVID-19 – Cash is king
All equations were null with the unexpected change in economic dynamic. In the new economic post-COVID-19 customer or employee is not the king; Cash is king.
“J.C. Penney, 118-Year-old department store, files for bankruptcy” (nytimes.com, 2020)
“A number of retailers and restaurant companies have filed for bankruptcy in 2020” (businessinsider.com, 2020)
Corporates will have to first figure its cash management as the priority, without cash at hand business is like a tree without soil, it will not grow. People have basic needs, as such corporates to have basic needs to function.
The customer and employee will always be at the helm for business growth; however, corporates first must manage its basic physiological need, cash to overcome the COVID-19 economy. Don’t hope for change, change for hope.
(Sarath Perera is an award-winning Chartered Marketer who is currently heading the global marketing function for over 20 countries including, United States, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, India, and Sri Lanka as a Global Marketing Manager for a leading multinational IT company, backed with experience and exposure in management, advertising, sales and marketing.)