Branding

Three scenarios that show businesses should sweat the small stuff

Michel Hogan /

A while back I wrote a piece entitled, “Don’t do stupid stuff to customers”.

Bless businesses everywhere: they still just can’t seem to help themselves but to continue to do stupid things. It’s time for another round.

I’m a fan of the business world. It’s takes unbelievable fortitude to front up every day and open the doors. And many times, customers don’t make life easy. I’ve said it before: in general we all need to be kinder to each other and not approach every situation as if what’s happening to you is deliberately targeted at you.

I often entreat organisations to think like their customers. I know can be a huge step for those who barely acknowledge they have them, but try. Thinking like your customers means pretending you are the customer. Which should be a breeze, because we are all customers of something.

So step out of your “my business” shoes into a pair of “I am a customer” boots and ask yourself questions like: “How would I feel if … ”, “What would I think if …”, “What would I do if …”.

In the spirit of gentle encouragement – here are stories of unnecessary stupid stuff three businesses did to a customer. The customers weren’t even looking for wow or to be delighted. A modicum of common sense and a smidge of empathy would have been just fine.

And now for the tales of woe.

To learn why you shouldn’t get blinded by delight, click here.

People over paper

It was 7.30am, and Jane was the second customer of the day in a large office supply store. The staff were getting ready for the day when she walked in to get some files printed for a presentation the next day. The people working the print and copy counter were already helping the one other customer in the store. And just as Jane walked up to the ‘wait in line here’ sign, the other staff member in the print area headed off with a jaunty aside to her colleague “are you ok to help?”

So she waited. And waited. While the staff member who had walked off straightened piles of notebooks and stacked copy paper. And waited. While she organised pencils and packs of Post-it notes. And waited. While the other customer’s documents got printed. After about 10 minutes, the person at the print counter was finally free and asked: “Can I help you?”

If we take the ‘be kinder’ view, they had just opened, and the staff member who scurried off had things to get ready for the day ahead. However, customers, in general, feel they should be more important than inanimate objects and will get annoyed when you choose to take care of stacks of paper instead of them.

A delayed bill for coffee

Jim often spends a few hours at his local café and is there at least a few times a week, meeting up with friends to catch up over coffee and eggs. They have a running float, so one or the other pays and they don’t pay much attention to who’s turn it is.

So imagine his surprise when after a solo morning visit he went to pay, and the girl behind the counter pulled out a receipt: “When you were here last week with Peter we forgot to put your coffee on the bill, so do you mind paying for it today?”

“Okay,” he said, but in his head, he was wondering why a regular customer gets to pay for the café’s mistake. It’s a coffee. One coffee. One coffee among dozens he buys. But no, a receipt was kept with a note on it, and it had to be redeemed.

Taking the ‘be kinder’ view, the girl serving Jim was following instructions and wasn’t thinking about how often he bought coffee from them. However, this is not about the cup of coffee or getting it for free. This scenario is about avoiding making customers pay for your mistakes.

Linda’s long wait

It was hot, and it had been a long day for Linda. The kind which starts early and takes a lot of emotional energy to get through. But it was nearly over, just grab a cab to the station, catch a train back to her house and a glass of wine was waiting.

And while that is the script the rest of the day followed, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Linda clicked on the CAB app on her phone. (No, she doesn’t use ride-sharing, but that’s a different blog). Selecting her location, she placed a request for next available cab.

The “we’ll let you know when we find your driver” message popped up and Linda waited. And waited. And waited. She checked the app; it was still looking for her driver with apologies it was taking so long.

Finally frustrated by the wait, she called to find out what was taking so long. The customer representative gave her the bad news, “We had an outage, but have made your request our highest priority”. What! No message about the outage on the app. It took a phone call to find out.  

If we take the kinder view when considering this situation, the person on the end of the phone was likely to be having a much worse day than the stranded passengers, and of course, system outages happen. However, making Linda call to get bad news is a bad strategy. Tell her upfront. Sure she will still be waiting, but at least she will know why.

What do all these stories have in common?

It’s all small stuff. Standing in line, an unexpected charge, waiting for a cab. None of them enough to ruin the relationship, but now those customers are more wary, less likely to have confidence in the businesses. And as a result their brands have taken a hit.

The moral of this story is do sweat the small stuff, don’t do stupid stuff to customers and you will get a robust, resilient brand as a result.

See you next week.

NOW READ: Four principles for accepting advice without getting dragged in the wrong direction

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Michel Hogan

Michel Hogan is an independent brand thinker and adviser dedicated to helping you make promises you can keep and keep the promises you make — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com.

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