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No, don’t cut the serviettes in half

You’ve probably been in those joints. The ones where the serviette is surprisingly small and thin. And you’re only given one.

How does that happen? A member of staff sits down with a whole packet of normal-sized serviettes, and proceeds to cut each one in half. That’s how. After that, the same person will probably proceed to water down the tomato ketchup and chilli sauce. If you dilute them enough, you can probably get two or three bottles out of every one that you pay for…

Which type of restaurant owner thinks this is a good idea? Well, the one who thinks you need to save money wherever you can; the one who thinks customers never notice these things; the one who thinks it’s shrewd and sharp and cunning to cut corners.

The dumb type, in other words.

What proportion of a restaurant’s costs come from the serviettes, or the ketchup? Yet this is a “saving” that will be immediately noticed by the customer. Is it worth doing? Only on the planet where customers are sheep to be fleeced by providing the minimum possible experience that you can get away with. Which should not be planet Earth, but seems to be for way too many people.

No wonder most restaurants fail. And yet, this behaviour is not confined to eateries, nor to small businesses. How else do you explain banks that do nothing to mitigate queues; brewers who mess with great recipes to reduce raw material costs; TV distributors who will keep you hanging on the telephone for an eternity?

It’s the same disease: messing around with the customer experience to save some cents, while the dollars walk out of the door unnoticed.

Time for Business 101. A business exists to serve customers, serve them so well that they bond with the business, keep coming back to it, sustain it for decades. When this happens, employees earn good salaries and enjoy meaningful careers; and shareholders make handsome returns. Everyone’s happy.

I’m sorry to state that again, but when I see the typical behaviour of the average business out there, I truly wonder how many grasp this simple essence. It makes zero sense to trick customers, to inconvenience them, to annoy them, to degrade their experience of your products. None at all. Whatever money you save by engaging in those shenanigans will be more than lost in the ill-will and disconnection with your brand that you create. The irritated customer will one day pay you back, in spades.

I’ll never forget when I first walked into an Apple Store. Gleaming devices everywhere. Not locked behind glass cabinets, with the key in the managers’ pocket, please note: free for anyone to try out. Who was using them? Mostly students and tourists, catching up with their emails or social media delights. Not paying customers. So why provide this facility, which is very expensive, on prime real estate? Because you’re impressing an outstanding user experience on more and more people. Who will all note it, and even if they can’t buy now, will return to buy as soon as they can afford the device for themselves.

Would the mean-minded businesses I described above be this far-sighted? No. But which is the world’s most valuable company, sitting on more cash than most countries’ GDPs? That would be Apple. Because Apple totally gets customer experience. In the store, on the device. No corners cut; much money spent to delight the user in unexpected ways.

When you cut corners, you send two messages: one, to your customers – that you are a petty little scrooge who doesn’t give a damn about their happiness. Two, to your employees, that customers are just suckers who need to be tricked and short-changed.

Both those messages confirm your future failure. So stay away from the shenanigans. They may be crafty, but they’re not clever.

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