When to Correct Your Customers

Always doing what’s in the best interest of your customer is always the right thing to do. 

And I’m not talking about morally “the right thing.” I’m talking about it’s the right thing to do for your business.

For example, my wife and I were shopping at Costco this week. In the bakery we saw some bags of particularly good-looking bagels. It was slightly more than I wanted to pay, but the options were enticing. Cinnamon raisin or parmesan encrusted? Should we get sweet and traditional or savory and stylish?

I looked at my wife, and she looked at me. Tension thick in the air. I swallowed hard. Beads of perspiration formed on my brow. I had heard the woeful tales of bagel regret and now it was staring me in the face. Our bready enjoyment for at least the next five days hung in the balance. 

We played it safe and got cinnamon raisin.

Later at checkout, as the cashier was ringing up the bagels he said, “Did you know you get two bags of bagels for this price? And you can mix and match. Did you want a second bag?”

My wife and I shared a look of surprise and delight. Hallelujah! Costco snatched us from the jaws of bagel regret. Because there would have been that little voice whispering in the dead of night, “I bet the parmesan encrusted bagels were better.”

Question. Did the cashier have to inform us that we were about to overpay for our baked delights? No. He could have let us go on our way and Costco would have made a better profit than expected on that sale. But that’s not how Costco trains it’s employees. They have a culture of doing what’s in the best interest of the customer. Because ultimately, it’s also what’s in the best interest of Costco.

The tempting thing is to not correct a customer’s mistake when the mistake is more profitable for the business. The reasoning goes like this, “I didn’t trick my customer. I wasn’t trying to deceive them. They should have been paying better attention. My win.”

But it’s not a win. Not in the long term. Because the companies that always do what’s in the best interest of their customers are the ones that have real staying power.

Now, how do you make sure you can afford to always do right by your customers?

We’ll talk about that next week.

– Zac Smith, VC