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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Commit Ireland's Worst Crime.

I stole someone’s potatoes today. Actually, it was worse. I took away someone's option to buy potatoes.

I should probably preface that.

I sometimes eat breakfast in the cafeteria at work. Because most of the morning crowd are regulars, there are established norms that include, “unless you are requesting something made-to-order, you can serve yourself from the line”. Like most norms, it is not written anywhere, just tacitly understood. Customers that don’t want to spend unnecessary time waiting can serve themselves.

Of course, a newcomer wouldn’t have that tacit understanding, which is what I missed when I skipped past him, scooped up the last of the hash browns and made for the register. As I was paying, I heard the following exchange:

“You mean, I can just go ahead?”


“Are there any more potatoes?”


Two aspects unique to any service experience went unaddressed, and it made for a bad start to this guy’s day.

The first is that the customer has to know their role in co-production. If there was so much as a sign that told him to move ahead, he would have had his desire fulfilled completely.

The second is that, largely beyond the company’s control, customers will impact the service that other customers experience. This part was on me. I didn’t look to see if he was a regular. I didn’t ask if he was waiting for an order. I assumed he knew what he was doing, skipped to fulfilling my role in my own experience, and in the process, diminished his.

To “Man Without Adequate Starch”: I’m sorry. My Bad. If I see you tomorrow, I’ll buy your potatoes, hopefully provide a positive customer-to-customer interaction.

To everyone else: Do your customers know their role? Is this answer different from a trial customer to an experienced user? Is it possible that your regulars, because of their experience, diminish the service for new customers? Is it possible that first-timers frustrate regulars because their lack of knowledge gained through regular use? How could you change the experience to be more accommodating to each? How could you change the physical environment to do the same thing?

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