Penny Mordaunt, who carried her sword with such panache at the coronation, has called for 2024 to become the year we ‘make the consumer the king again’. I like Mordaunt. You should see the way she demolishes her Labour and Scots Nats counterparts in the Commons. But with her call for customers to be treated as monarchs, she may face an unwinnable battle. Businesses regard customers not as kings but as potential muggers, racists and a thoroughly dodgy lot.
‘Le client n’a jamais tort,’ said the hotelier César Ritz (d.1918), and he made a fortune. The more common attitude among today’s business owners, particularly in London, is that le client n’a jamais right. Are they correct – or is their much-paraded suspicion worsening the atmosphere?
Here are some signs seen in shops and cafés. Exhibit one: ‘Zero tolerance. Shouting, being disrespectful or abusive towards staff will not be tolerated at any time. Our hardworking, amazing staff have the right to be treated with dignity and respect at all times.’
Exhibit two: ‘Our people are people too. Please respect our Team so we can create a positive retail experience.’
Exhibit three: ‘Zero tolerance policy. We will not tolerate any forms of sexual harassment, aggression, racism, misogyny, LGBT phobia, religious bigotry.’
Exhibit four: ‘Giving money or food to people outside our store is encouraging theft, aggressive behaviour and substance abuse. There are many charities that would love your support. Please consider before handing over any money outside our store.’
Harry Gordon Selfridge (1858-1947), creator of the department store on London’s Oxford Street, helped mint the dictum ‘the customer is always right’. Selfridges is today more concerned about parading its own righteousness. On its website, alongside statements about its ‘tax vision and tax strategy objectives’, its modern slavery statement and gender pay gap report, you will find an ‘unacceptable behaviour policy’.