Monday, April 16, 2007

How Not to Cater to the Customer

I had made prior arrangements to meet a colleague on Monday afternoon at a local cafe that specializes in gourmet sandwiches, baked goods and of! I finished with my lunch appointment early and was excited to get to the cafe early and have about 45 minutes to hammer out some work before my 2PM meeting. I arrived with laptop bag in hand and money to spend to get a jump start on my caffeine fix prior to my meeting.

The cafe wasn't very full and I quickly found a table by a plug (damn computers should have endless batteries!) and started to unpack my laptop. Just then a "hmm hmm" sound appeared from behind me and it was one of the owners with a very disapproving look on his face. He motioned for me to look at the typed up sign that was hanging from the wall which said in no uncertain terms...


I had known this cafe to not offer wireless access between these hours which was fine with me but now this sign indicated that if I was toting a laptop that I wasn't welcome. I sarcastically laughed at the owner and said, "Are you serious? I can't even do some work while I wait for a meeting I have at 2PM....I plan to buy something and know you don't have your wifi enabled until after 2PM."

"You are welcome to stay but your laptop isn't allowed on the table." He curtly turned and walked off to go serve a customer behind the counter.

Now I can empathize with these people who offer wireless access and have people that come in and camp out all day. Table turn is what it's all about in the restaurant world and despite what Starbucks is only concerned with how quickly it can get people in and out of their stores as well (quoted to me by their VP of Marketing in fact) but even they are not as rude as this guy. I could not believe how mater of fact he was about it and this despite nearly half of his cafe being empty!

As I gathered my stuff a table full of business people had noticed the treatment and one guy remarked, "That guys is a *#&* (rhymes with stick)."

"So if you know this why do you come here," I asked him.

"Good question! Why do we come here guys," he asked everyone else at the table.

There were some snide comments about the coffee and sandwiches. Then a young lady spoke up and said to her colleagues, "His wife is a lot nicer but she hardly works the lunch crowd. And besides half the time the stuff we need to talk about is on our laptops so it doesn't make sense we keep coming here. Especially after that," referring to the treatment they had just witnessed.

I won't bore you with the back and forth dialogue but let me just summarize that they all agreed that finding a new place to lunch was a priority for their weekly (yes weekly) executive lunch gathering. Their entire table's business had to be worth at least $ 70-80 given the size and selection of meals spread throughout their table.

In one fell swoop in an attempt to avoid one customer this guy had managed to lose about $ 280 a month in revenue or $ 3,360.00 for the year at in total 12 customers (me included). Not to mention that several other tables seem to be paying pretty rapt attention to what was occurring and I suspect that this now very public debate would influence their future spending dollars as well.

I completely agree it is the business owner's right to make up their own policies and procedures and we as consumers can choose to agree or disagree with them. We ultimately vote with our dollars and that's the way it should be. However, this guy's over the top policy is just plain wrong. It fails to take into account his demographic which is mainly business folks that all tend to have an assortment of laptops and other electronic devices in tow. His policy, especially given the available number of tables, was majoring in the most minor of areas and that's just plain bad. Perhaps his policy was the reason that his cafe was only half full? Who knows but it wouldn't surprise me.

This situation stands as a good reminder to us all. Are your policies or procedures majoring in minor things and working against the support of your customers? If you don't know but suspect that they might, ask! It certainly makes more sense than to just outright lose their business doesn't it?

Ripple On!!!

Steve Harper


KT said...

There's a multi-city WiFi locator
that accepts comments. I try to add comments when I find a particularly good or bad spot, or incorrect information.

My favorite spot in Austin to "remote office" is a pub on north 183/Jollyville with free and fast WiFi. I sit in the back where it is quiet and get quite a lot done. They started as the watering hole for TI, so tech is very welcome there at all times. Plugs are a problem there too, unfortunately, because a number are worn out!

Jeremy Jacobs said...

This is the sort of pea-brained mentality you get in the UK.

Anonymous said...

I think I know which place you are speaking of and this is the exact reason I don't go there anymore.

Perhaps they need to take your course on customer service. They certainly could use it!

Mike Lewis