That and $6 Will Get You a Cup of Coffee

I had to take my own advice and take a break for a bit. I’ve been caught up with family activities and the end-of-school whirlwind and actually finding a little time to relax and get caught up a few things. I’m back now – ready to provide you with information you can use to make your business better. So, let’s get right to it.

Customer service counts…and so does its child, the freebie.

My housemate and I ::gasp:: ran out of coffee. We had a lot to do yesterday, and thought we’d save a trip to the local (10 minute drive away) coffee dealer by just walking over to the neighborhood “mart” – which is actually a liquor store, but that’s another post. We took a casual stroll to the mart, eagerly anticipating caffeine, only to find that the machine was out of order.

Bummed, but not deterred, we decided to check out the nearby restaurants to see if we might find coffee. Picture the small “strip mall” next to the mart with revolving restaurants on either end. To clarify, the restaurants don’t actually revolve; each space has been home to several different restaurants during my tenure (but that, also, is another post). At any rate, we were standing outside one (the other was definitely closed), checking the hours and watching the wait staff arrive for work.

Needless to say, the staff was just arriving; they weren’t open yet. The manager noticed us lurking outside the door and came out to talk to us. After we explained that we lived in the neighborhood and were looking for a caffeine fix we were told that they weren’t open, but we could definitely have coffee to go. In fact, he’d just made a fresh pot. The server who prepared the coffee for us was really nice; in fact, the whole crew came across as a friendly bunch. They don’t normally do coffee to go, so they (apologetically) only had paper kid-drink cups. They told us that next time we could bring our own mugs for a better experience. We were offered milk and sugar and wonderful hospitality – and then we were charged almost six dollars and sent on our merry way.

$6 doesn’t buy as much as $0.

You don’t have to be a coffee dealer (oh, yeah, it’s a drug for sure) to know that 16 ounces of coffee does not cost $6, not even if you throw in the cost of the paper cups. We looked around the restaurant while we were waiting; we got our coffee; and we left. Next time, we’ll jump in the car and go get some. Even including the cost of gas, the coffee dealer would give us more – for less – and we don’t owe the restaurant anything.

What free buys for your business.

A few years ago when I found myself in a similarly coffee-less situation, I tried the restaurant at the other end of the mall (that has since undergone a revolution). They weren’t open yet either, but they were getting set up and could definitely do coffee. Did I want regular, espresso, or a cappuccino? I had a cappuccino, in a real cup, while sitting at one of the tables and was told to come any time. Another time, my son and I were walking by on our way home from the beach and the owner recognized me and waved us in for a cappuccino (for me, and a soda for my son). They had been sitting out on their patio having lunch, and invited us to join them. Total cost for two cappuccinos, two plates of pasta, and a soda — $0.

What $0 buys that $6 can’t.

I liked those friendly people. I thought it was really nice that they’d treated us like neighbors. I was not a customer; I was a neighbor; and I was obligated to be a good neighbor. I took my son again, for food that I paid for. I told my housemates about how great the place was – how nice the people were, and they went. I took my family for dinner. We all told other people about the place and took them to eat there. I don’t know about you, but I tend to be a little more willing to spend money to help people that I know, and people that I owe.

All told, we spent a lot more on them than they spent on me. That place got a lot out of their little bit of customer service. The new place, well, they got $6.

There are two morals here:

  • Always keep in mind your actual costs and what you can comfortably give away to add value to your business.
  • Develop relationships with customers and clients. If you treat them like friends and neighbors, they’ll be more likely to support you as friends and neighbors would.

Have you had similar experiences (either as the business or the consumer)? Please share.

On a side note, I came across another post, on Big Bright Bulb, along the same lines after I had saved mine. I guess great minds think alike — and my thoughts aren’t way off base. Also check out this one from IttyBiz on deciding what you can (and shouldn’t) give away.