I was standing in line at Starbucks yesterday when the woman in front of me said two things that made me cringe. The barista asked for her order and the first cringe-worthy statement was, "You may want to get a pen to write this down." Yowza. Then statement #2 (which I was now more interested to hear) came like a jab to the chin, "I'd like a no water, extra hot, extra pump, no foam, chai." Yes, you heard it right. How's that for control? I was literally thinking about her order for the next hour or so after I left.
I know Starbucks had a campaign around creating your signature drink which probably birthed this ridiculous order but it got me thinking about customer choice and the role it plays in business success. What does it cost to tailor services like this? For Starbucks, probably a combination of time and product. It took a few extra minutes for the barista to write down such a specialized order and then a few more minutes to make sure it was followed correctly. I am sure these specialty order patrons ask for lots of drinks to be re-made because they aren't quite up to specs, resulting in a ton of wasted drinks. All this during a rush time for the store with a huge line of impatient office workers with perhaps similarly complicated orders.
On the flip side, this kind of customization creates serious loyalty. This woman is surely an extremely happy and loyal Starbucks customer. I would bet there is no other coffee house here in Madison, WI that would create such a tailored drink -- at least without laughing hysterically in her face first! Try this at Mother Fools. I dare you.
Back in my high school days, I was a waitress at a popular restaurant on the Jersey Shore (I'll wait while you imagine the 80s big hair). The chef had a rule - NO SUBSTITUTIONS. Ever. His feeling was, let me do what I was trained to do. I remember trying to slip in a special order in my early days and being chastised, "If she wants some dry piece of fish with no taste, she can stay home." We probably had a few people leave as a result of this rule but he was a legend and people came knowing they had to order what was on the menu. As a waitress, it was a tough sell at times but I had to admire his quality standards. He was kind of like our own little Anthony Bourdain. He also threw trays at us. Yes, the big ones. Maybe not the best working conditions when I think back but boy did we did have fun. In hindsight, I now know he created a brand for us that, lucky for the owners, made the restaurant unique and successful.
So which one is right? There's the old adage, "The customer is always right." However, the most popular and successful companies are often uncompromising about their key offerings. Some even fire customers or simply won't do work for those that are unenlightened. Deeming them a hassle and not worth the possible dip in reputation.
What's your opinion? Do we let customers rule or do we stick to our values and hope we find a big enough niche that appreciates the expertise we provide?