Do You Confuse Codependency With Customer Service?

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • You stay up later and later to fix problems in the name of "great customer service".
  • Delegation rarely happens because you don't trust anybody else to do it the right way.
  • You feel pressure to take on more and more tasks that are outside of what you would normally agree to take.
  • You've been told by more than one person that you micro-manage too much.
  • You frequently offer free or extremely underpriced service in order to please and/or avoid conflict.
  • You don't hold your clients accountable to your agreements.
  • You go "above and beyond" to the point that it interferes negatively with other areas of your life.

codependent customer service

Many "codependents" are great at customer service. They anticipate needs, they empathize, they save the day and look great doing it. We already know how important it is to nurture our client relationships, but there is a line and you have to be vigilant enough to recognize it.

Codependency manifests for many reasons, and there are a lot of articles out there about codependency in relation to addiction. Unfortunately, operating your business with the typical codependent traits can be emotionally and financially devastating.

But if the client is happy, why does this matter?

Let's define codependency.

From Merriam-Webster:


noun co·de·pen·den·cy ˌkō-di-ˈpen-dən-sē

a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person manifesting low self-esteem and a strong desire for approval has an unhealthy attachment to another person and places the needs of that person before his or her own ◆ In codependency, a person tries to satisfy the needs of another who is often controlling or manipulative and who may have an addictive or emotionally unstable personality. ; broadly:  dependence on the needs of or control by another


This issue causes fun things like sleep deprivation, neglecting healthy habits, and mismanaging time and resources because you are always running to "save" people. There's a dark cloud of instability and stress when you think that you have to be the hero, the go-to person for everything and everyone.

"If I don't handle this for them, everything will fall apart!" is often a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it only gets worse as your client base and responsibilities grow.

Codepedency-fueled customer service helps no one.

From one codependent to another, trust me on this: throwing yourself under the bus repeatedly in the name of "great customer service" is unsustainable. You WILL eventually reach a breaking point.

You can't feed your family by working for free just to make somebody happy. Free or underpriced work doesn't pay for groceries, clothing, or the electricity bill. Hand-holding doesn't help anybody. You will stifle your own growth as well as theirs.

The good news: once you identify the problem, you can work to fix it. In fact, you have a responsibility to yourself and your business to do so.

So, what can you do?

1) Refuse to compromise on your priorities.

family priorities

A list of my own personal priorities include the following -

(1) Dedicating a set amount of individual "talking time" with each of my three children while tucking them into bed for the night.

(2) Regular exercise.

(3) A clean(ish) home. The less clutter we have, the better I can think, work, and sleep.

I do my best to recognize when I am putting work ahead of anything on that list, and fix it immediately (I can almost hear my husband laughing from the other room as I type these words. I really do try!).

This is a work in progress, but when I find myself putting my own need to please above my family's needs, I know it's time to take a step back.

You likely have your own list. If you've never really put yourself first, start with just one or two things, and go from there once you have those habits in place. A good client will respect your time and boundaries, especially if you respect them first.

2) Stick to your boundaries with written contracts.


Far too many small business owners rely on verbal contracts and unwritten assumptions with their clients and staff. Don't do this to yourself. I know you stay busy, but cover yourself and have a contract for every agreement you enter.

Don't hire anybody without a clear, written contract that has been reviewed by a lawyer (we use LegalShield for this). Don't take on a client without a contract with expectations, payment arrangements, and other important items. Expect the best, plan for the worst.

A contract is helpful for more than legalities. A good contract keeps expectations clear with right and left limits for all involved. They're a wonderful tool for codependents who struggle with boundaries.

3) Cut the cord.

2016 Dino Reichmuth

I fully believe in personal touch, but you have to draw a line. Otherwise, you will work yourself to death with very little to show for it.

Ask yourself honestly: does this customer actually need all of this hand-holding? If so, why? Can you make changes in your company processes or resources to empower them?

Talk to your customers about what their problems actually are, instead of making assumptions.

You might be surprised at what people are capable of doing on their own, with proper guidance. You could be solving problems that they don't even have because you think you know what's best, while neglecting problems that they actually have. It happens to the best of us, but from my observations, codependents can be the most stubborn about this.

5) Don't encourage your team to provide codependent customer service.

This is a real problem in many workplaces and professional relationships. Owners and supervisors can encourage dysfunctional behavior, making it hard for their employees to set proper personal boundaries,and continuing the vicious cycle.

The customer is important, but so is your team. You can stand behind your team AND provide great customer service. It's not one or the other.

Encourage healthy client relationships across your entire team, work with your clients to find out what their REAL problems are (not what you assume they are), and you will be on the right track to actually providing good service. Don't applaud workaholism and codependency. Left unchecked, that will do more harm than good.

Good clients won't run all over you. Healthy boundaries foster healthy relationships. Keep your eye on the prize, provide value, and value yourself at the same time. Be honest with yourself, above all. Your clients deserve you at your best.

I'd love to hear from you. Have you experienced this in your own relationships with clients? How did you make adjustments, if so?

Additional reading:

Walking the Line Between Customer Service and Codependency (a PowerPoint slide presentation)
Codependent No More - Melody Beattie


  1. Amy Gleason on April 25, 2021 at 9:19 am

    I am a people leader within the customer service industry – primarily call centers – and I couldn’t agree more. Especially with point #5. Allowing your team to cater to the whims of a demading customer coupled with not holding your customer accountable to the agreed upon policies/contracts/SOP’s of your org leads to undue overwhelm and, eventually, complacency and burn out. You simply cannot coach complacency. Once a person has hit the wall of perception that what they are doing is not enough and never good enough they are done.

    In a world where people’s lives are riddled with addictions, abuse and toxicity it might seem natural for some people to fall in to codependent patterns in the workplace because that’s the only way they know how to cope.

    A servant leader in tune to the signs of a codepenent personality might take extra steps to support this worker and empower them by providing strategies that counter codependence – establishing boundaries, self awareness, assertiveness, etc. Thus allowing them a safe place to practice new skills that can be carried over to their personal life.

    Clearly defining expectations to both your employee and customer, keeping each accountable to their parts and providing consistent praise for follow through fosters a culture of customer service where interactions are natural and the employee feels compelled to provide great customer service.

    It’s truly a win-win

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