This paper presents a critique of the notion of 'the customer' as a basis for total quality management (TQM). It argues that in practice the concept is often difficult to apply and likely to lead to confusion and misleading conclusions. It explicitly excludes the interests of many stakeholders-these include the workforce, shareholders, the community in general and environmental considerations. Ostensibly, customer-focused TQM should make customers' interests the first priority; in practice the real aim may be enhancing the profits of the organization. However, the assumption that the customer is the only important beneficiary may be so unrealistic as to make TQM ineffective for either of these purposes. The alternative suggested here is to focus on activities which may serve a variety of interests, and then to carry out a multi-criteria decision analysis to judge which strategies and tactics are likely to increase quality levels. This is likely to lead to a more complex, multi-faceted analysis than a simple focus on the customer. The analysis may be enhanced by the use of further problem-structuring techniques such as cognitive mapping. Then TQM can be made relevant to quality in the broad sense of the word and to general concerns about the quality of life.