Thursday, October 02, 2008

Don't Use The Economy To Muck With Your Customers

There is a quaint little coffee shop not far from my house where I like to stop each morning to grab a cup of coffee before heading into the office. The coffee shop used to be my main place to hang out, do some work and have my face to face meetings with a clients and colleagues. In fact when I first moved into the area four years ago it was where my book was originally conceived and written. Regular customers would always find me hard at work at 6AM pounding away at my keyboard as the great coffee buoyed my creative spirits and the continual tapping of my keys kept rhythmic timing to the often great jazz that played in the background.

That was nearly four years ago. The business has been bought and resold now twice and the spot where I once plugged in for my creativity is now but a shell of its former self. The perky jazz has been replaced with loud and obnoxious noise, which for me, a person who loves all music, that says something. The displays are dirty the walls and floors are a mess. The energy of the place is both erratic and depressing. The people who used to hang out for hours in the morning are now gone - many of us defaulting to the "grab and go" customer. The coffee is still better than Starbucks but even that has changed slightly.

Then this week it happened. It started on Monday with a rather bold sign slapped on the front door that read, "EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY WE WILL BE CLOSED ON SUNDAYS!!!" That same emphatic announcement was also displayed at the counter where you order. A customer in front of me asked why they were closing and one of the employees remarked because, "You don't come in on Sundays. We don't make any money so we are closing." The comment was said in such a way that it could have easily been taken to mean their livelihood or lack thereof on Sunday's was somehow this poor lady's fault. Watching this all go down perturbed me not to mention I haven't seen that customer who asked in all week - clearly it bothered her too.

Then yesterday the final straw.

The original owners had come up with a crafty little plan way back when. Oh how I miss them. Anyway....They sold big coffee mugs for $ 15.00. When you brought that coffee mug in your refills were always $ 1.00. A great deal and something I took advantage of over these past few years. I would continually refill my "charge account" and the coffee shop would simply deduct a $ 1.00 from my balance. Great deal and worked like a charm.

Until it didn't.

Yesterday I was in getting my regular refill and I noticed the price on the register didn't show a $ 1.00 it showed $ 2.00. I stopped the gal and said, "Wait a minute the refills are supposed to only be a dollar." I smiled and was giving her the benefit of the doubt because she rarely worked the register.

Without looking at me once. She said, "Nope. Not any more. The price on the cups is now $ 2.00," and she proceeded to deduct it from my account with out nary a glance to gage my approval or not.

"Hmmm wait a minute. It has always been a dollar. When did this change happen?"

To which she remarked, "Earlier this week." I hadn't paid any attention. She then said something I can't believe, "Blame the economy," she handed me my coffee and smiled. "Have a nice day."

Clearly this new business owner does not get it. The economy isn't to's understanding how to run a business that is the likely culprit. Whether it be how you communicate to your customers in writing (bold in your face signs) or with the verbiage that you give your employees to explain a price increase, you have to understand and appreciate the impact and the subsequent Ripples it will have on your customers.

Driving by today I did not stop though I could see into the shop from the street as I drove by. At that time of the morning there is usually a line at the counter. This morning there was only two people and the parking lot was basically empty. Sad but certainly not unexpected. It takes a long time to build goodwill with your customers and an instant to lose it.

We can blame the economy on a lot of things but we should never use it as a crutch or an excuse to justify an erratic change with our customers. Lest we as business owners will find out first hand how hard the economy can be when the customers who helped us build our companies suddenly decide to spend their money elsewhere. It's a sad fact but a true one.

Ripple On My Friends!!!


Frank Butterfield said...

Sounds like those employees are getting hit from both directions: the owners/managers who are freaking out and taking it out on them by giving them terse instructions coupled with the customers who are wondering what the heck is going on.

You can always tell how management is managing by the way front-line employees behave to the customers.

You did your best at being a patient customer.

I hope those employees find new and wonderful places to work soon. Or that the management shifts their attitude quickly!!

Anyone can thrive, no matter the economy. It's all about deciding what you want to experience and then allowing it to happen. Coffee houses can be welcoming, inviting oases of pleasure in a stressed-out world if they want to be. When they are, the money just keeps on coming!

Karin H said...

Hi Steve

Liz directed me here and it is really weird who some businesses (small and large) blame for their downfall.
Hope you don't mind I put in a link to a post I wrote on the same subject? Also a crazy reaction: Village marketing.

Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

Andrew Weaver said...

Great post and points, Steve (as usual).

I've noticed people at my job and other places recently justify erratic (even rude) behavior by pointing to the economy. It irritates me to know end. If anything, businesses should be treating their customers BETTER because of the economy. Each business needs their customers now more than ever.