The customer is king: culture-based unintended consequences of modern marketing

Chang Soo Kim, Praveen Aggarwal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study aims to examine how the modern marketing expectation of treating the customer like a king can become a source of power differential in societies that already have a predisposition for hierarchical structures. The authors explore how this marketing-generated power differential might have an adverse impact on service providers in Eastern cultures with high power distance. Design/methodology/approach: Four studies involving receivers and providers of services in Canada and South Korea were conducted. The experiments required participants to read service scenarios and respond to survey questions. Findings: The authors find that practicing the “The Customer is King” philosophy does produce a power differential between the customer and the service provider in Eastern cultures. In such cultures, customers may feel superior in social hierarchy compared to the service providers, may develop a sense of entitlement that infringes on the rights of the service providers and may carry over that expectation from service to non-service contexts. The power differential is also a source of stress for the service provider. Research limitations/implications: The use of scenarios in our experiments may limit the generalizability of the study’s findings. Practical implications: Although sharing of best practices across cultures can be a worthwhile goal for managers, blind copying of some Western practices in Eastern markets can be problematic. The cultural context of markets calls for caution. In their quest for excellent customer service, managers should not let customers expect the service provider to become subservient and servile. Originality/value: This study is the first attempt at examining the social impact of a marketing philosophy (customer is king) and how the outcomes might be different depending on the culture in which the philosophy is practiced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-201
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Consumer Marketing
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Cultural differences
  • Customer delight
  • Power distance
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Service provider stress
  • Social hierarchy


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