Be careful what message you send

I walked into a café recently. There was a lovely desktop published sign stuck on a potted plant that said, “YES, I am real, so don’t break my leaves, because it hurts. THANK YOU.” The appropriate words were printed in capitals and red was used to really emphasise the most important points. I thought this was a strange sign to have at the front door. As I walked in, I felt like I was walking into the home of Gary Starkweather (the inventor of the laser printer). There were nice colour printed signs everywhere telling me what to do and what not to do. “Please close door”, “No split bills” and “Please take a seat and you will be served” were three signs that immediately jumped out at me. They were trying to be very friendly and used the word please many times but I still think they missed a crucial point.

In business, in any business, you are there to deliver what the client wants. If the client wants to break leaves on your pot plant, let them! If it really annoys you, either put in a plastic pot plant so the leaves can’t be broken or remove the pot plant. If you want the door to close, put in an automatic door closer. You need to be flexible and malleable in business and bend and twist to what your clients want. My staff stopped asking me long ago if we can perform a certain function for a client. My standard answer was that “if a client wants us to stand in the middle of the road on one leg we will do it – provided they are prepared to pay”.

I feel for the business owner in this example. He was obviously annoyed at the lack of respect customers showed his plant. He was apparently sick of being asked if orders are taken at the counter or at the table. He found it time-wasting and annoying when people wanted their bills split. All of these feelings are quite normal in a human being but in business the feelings of the staff have to be largely ignored. In a service business – which is exactly what a café is – and an MSP – you are there to serve. I know of a group of bicycle riders who once went to a certain café to have a coffee after their morning ride. A dozen or more riders would arrive at the café each morning around 10am. They would order their coffees and sometimes a little extra. They would also often eat individually at the café at other times as they liked their experiences. Every day when they would pay for their coffees, they would each pay for their coffees individually. Once day a sign went up that told all patrons that the practice of splitting bills would no longer be allowed. The cyclists did what any sensible group of people would do in that scenario – they found a café that wanted them! I would estimate that one little sign from that café just cost the café about $32K in income from one little group alone. I am sure they are patting themselves on the back now they have stopped wasting their time with little annoyances like split bills and I am sure the staff say they now have more time. I would suggest they have more time because they now have fewer customers.

In business, every little thing you do is advertising. It amazes me that some businesses spend huge amounts of money on marketing their business through normal media channels yet when they have the chance to impress a customer – and give their business a huge boost in word of mouth advertising, they fall down miserably.

Have a look around your business. Are you sending out positive messages? Are you inviting clients to do business with you in everything you do or are you pushing them away?

The one sign the café I originally mentioned didn’t have was the one thing I did. There was no sign that said, “After you have read the signs and are tired of being told what to do, please leave the café without ordering” because that is exactly what I did!

Tell me the worst sign you have seen in a business at

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