Coffee Stains and Customer Experience

Are you popping gum in your customer’s ears?

When I started this post, I was ready for a full scale rant. But I set it aside for a few days and cooled down enough so now I can simply tell you a story:

The other night I went to my daughter’s school chorus concert. I was really looking forward to it because it was likely to be one of her last live performances. (She doesn’t much care for singing in public, and I can relate.)

Right after I sat down, another couple arrived. The man seemed put out that I had the nerve to save the seat next to me for my husband, who was running a little behind. Luckily my husband arrived a minute later, just as the concert was starting, and all seemed well.

Before the first song was over, my husband leaned over to complain about how loudly the man was chewing his gum. I know my husband can sometimes be irritated by small things, so I shrugged it off, assuming he’d get through it. After the third or fourth complaint, Jim told me he had to leave or he’d “loose it.”

No sooner had he left then I began to hear the chewing and popping and popping and chewing myself. Yikes! I’ve never heard someone make so much noise with their gum, much less a grown man.

I looked over at the man while he enjoyed the concert, which I could no longer appreciate. How can one person be so oblivious to his impact on the people around him? How could that poor man in front of him put up with this? What about his wife? How could she live with THAT?!?

Well, it got me thinking about the old coffee stain theory popularized by Tom Peters in his book, In Search of Excellence.

If you haven’t heard of it, the concept of coffee stain management illustrates how we mentally amplify a simple problem, like a coffee stain on the tray table at our airline seat.

When you open the tray table and find a coffee stain, you’re likely to wonder what other, more important tasks may have been skipped. Is the airline maintaining the engines and safety equipment properly, or are those items also being overlooked?

The Chewing Gum Principle

I’d like to introduce a customer experience concept of my own, the “Chewing Gum Principle.”

Here’s how it goes: If you don’t notice that your own gum chewing is making people around you crazy – or worse, if you just don’t care – then how can you expect people to like and respect you?

If the “you” we’re talking about is a company, what irritations is your business creating that inadvertently drive customers away?

Think, for example, about the retail store that locks its fitting rooms and never has anyone around to open them. Popping gum.

Or how about a doctor’s office that can’t seem to see you within an hour of your appointment time? Popping gum.

Or a website that keeps asking you for the same information over and over, even though you set up an account and are already logged in. Popping gum.

I’m sure you can think of many more irritants that drive customers crazy while the offending company is oblivious. The point is, businesses SHOULD be aware of how there customers feel.

If a company can’t be bothered to ferret out the irritations and remove obstacles to a positive customer experience, why should anyone bother to do business with them?

It doesn’t matter if you have elegant officers, cool packaging or a high tech website if what’s inside stinks. Nothing overrides obnoxious, inconsiderate behavior towards customers.

People (like my husband) can and will vote with their feet. If you don’t respect to them, they will take their business elsewhere.

As they should.

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