Treat Everyone as Your Customer: An Organizational Paradigm Shift

October 11, 2023 | Business Development, Communication, Self Help

Image taken from Adobe stock

The notion of treating everyone as a customer began with me in 2011. Our organization deployed an employee opinion survey, and the business segment results I led were not good. On a 1-5 scale, with five being excellent, our company (more like me) received a 3.8 for “work environment,” which addressed cleanliness, equipment maintenance, having the proper equipment to do their work, and physical conditions (light, climate, and appearance). Since I was directly responsible for all of these items, it sent me a message that I was not adequately giving our employees the environment needed to achieve excellence.

When I saw these results, I had to make a decision. I could ignore them, justify them, or address them. I chose to address them and decided not just to address the issues. I chose to address how I approached the people handling the problems. I decided to adopt more of a service mindset. I began to strive to approach every business interaction I had as an opportunity to serve, assist, and provide value. I was going to treat everyone as my customers.

While I didn’t know it then, I also began to foster relationships built on trust, respect, and mutual understanding, which not only communicated that I would address their problems but was also vital to ME that we solve them. They began to know “I had their back.” There were times I couldn’t fulfill their “asks”. In most cases, they were not angry or resentful that I couldn’t because I gave them a full explanation of WHY we would be unable to.

Below, I will give examples of specific business relationships beyond your traditional customers (the ones who pay you for products and services) and how you can apply this mantra.

Your Boss

This example may seem obvious. You work for this person. They have authority over you. Naturally, you would think it is essential to fulfill their “asks,” and you’re right. Your boss should be one of the highest priorities in applying the “treat everyone as your customer” idea. Yet, people don’t. I’ve seen subordinates of my own and others blow off deadlines, not communicate with them, and do substandard work. If there was anyone you should treat as a customer (besides your customer), it is your boss. But go beyond timeliness, communication, and doing your best (all of which take little skill). Ask your boss, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Or go beyond just doing a “job” for them. If they ask you to compile a report for a meeting, provide your analysis as well. Share your ideas.

Your Co-Workers

No. You don’t report to your co-workers. However, adopting the mindset of treating them as a customer means you fulfill requests timely. You communicate with them. You offer help even when they don’t ask. Having a great team around you is an excellent example of when the sum of where the sum is greater than the whole of its parts. Be that catalyst of this mindset with your team.

Your Subordinates

This is the big one. They are not there to serve you! Repeat this: They are not there to serve you! We see on LinkedIn posts how great leaders serve the people who work for them. They recognize their value and recognize the better they are served, the better results the team as a whole will achieve. Great leaders ask:

  • What’s going well/what’s not going well?
  • Do you have everything you need to do your job efficiently?
  • Is there anyone on your team you would like to recognize for doing a great job?
  • In what areas would you like to receive more training?

Great leaders go beyond bringing in lunch once a week or deploying an annual employee opinion survey. It is part of everyday interaction. It becomes a habit like brushing your teeth. Adopting this mindset with your subordinates truly demonstrates the “treat everyone as your customer” mantra.

Your Vendors

What?! Treat your vendors as a customer?! Vendors are the ones we can ethically beat up and be okay with it, right? I mean, the customer IS always right, so our vendors just need to deal with it. Wrong! If you have chosen them correctly, your vendors are just as crucial to your organization as your customers and co-workers. They are the ones that can come through for you in a pinch. Need a rush on a specific product? Get a quick deadline sprung on you by your boss and need a report from your vendor? Vendors CAN make you look bad, but they can also make you look good. Find good ones, AND keep them. Be reasonable about your expectations. Pay them quickly and frequently. Fulfill their requests just as you would a customer. You might need them someday in a big way. Will they have your back because of the relationship you built, or will they treat YOU as just any other customer?


Treating everyone as your customer does not mean you must never say “no” and fulfill any request someone puts at your feet. While you aim to serve, you must ensure you’re not taken advantage of or spread too thin. Prioritize self-care and know when to say no. Just as with any healthy relationship, boundaries must exist. Have a tight deadline with a customer, and your co-worker springs something urgent on you because they didn’t plan well? This isn’t YOUR problem, and practicing the “treat everyone as your customer mindset” does not mean dropping what is critical to you.

However, having a “treat everyone as your customer” mindset means you approach a scenario like this differently. You don’t fire back with the old, “poor planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part.” At the same time, while true, it may not be the most emotionally intelligent thing to say. Let’s face it: having the “treat everyone as your customer” mindset comes from an emotionally intelligent place.

Instead, explain that you’re in the middle of an important deadline and can’t help them right now, but give them options on when you CAN help them. If that doesn’t work for them, again, that’s not on you. Just explain that you regret you can’t help them now, and if they can wait until you’re available, you’d be happy to help. This is just one example.

In this situation, you might have done your co-worker a favor by not dropping what you must do to assist them. Now, they will have to figure out how to solve the problem, which will improve them in two ways. One, they can choose to step up and gain experience doing it. Two, they may learn the importance of planning ahead.

Beyond Transactional

Treating someone as a customer doesn’t mean being superficial or transactional. Not everyone will reciprocate, as some don’t understand or appreciate your service mindset, but stay true to your values. If practiced genuinely and authentically, you can realize the following benefits:

  • Higher Quality Relationships: By understanding others’ needs and addressing them, you create stronger bonds, both professionally and personally.
  • Increased Collaboration: When everyone feels valued, they are more likely to cooperate and contribute their best efforts.
  • Elevated Reputation: Others will see you as approachable, helpful, and a genuine asset, which can open doors to new opportunities.
  • Personal Growth: You’ll develop a deeper understanding of human nature, improve your communication skills, and foster empathy.
  • Positive Ripple Effect: Your behavior may inspire others to adopt a similar mindset, leading to broader positive change in communities and organizations.
  • Sustainable Success: Organizations that value relationships tend to have more loyal employees, partners, and customers, leading to long-term success.

It’s also important not to announce to your work team or the world that you’ve adopted this mindset. Instead, just start working on it in your professional life. Your actions communicate much louder than the words you speak.

If adopted, this philosophy can greatly enhance a government contractor’s performance but could benefit any type of company. At its heart, the “treat everyone as your customer” idea goes beyond business. It’s a philosophy about recognizing every individual’s inherent worth and society’s interconnectedness. By adopting this mindset, we contribute to a more compassionate, understanding, and cooperative world.

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