Convenience Concerns

I was getting breakfast at my local convenience store recently, an unbranded joint close to my office, when I noticed a new addition to the store. Right by one of the two pay stations was a neatly handwritten sign that read, “No Cell Phones in Line.” I have to admit this message surprised me.

The owner, familiar with what I do for a living, was always quick to profess an over-the-top approach to customer service. “The customers always come first,” he has said to me on more than one occasion. This sign seemed incongruous with that message.

After a couple of mornings I couldn’t resist the urge to either call my wife and begin a lengthy conversation about her feelings just as I was about to order or simply ask the owner why he chose to post the sign. I chose the latter, of course, because my goal was to get his answer, not torture myself in the process.

What surprised me was his no-nonsense reasoning—the issue wasn’t even open for debate. “We are trying to move customers in and out quickly and when people are talking on the phone, they slow EVERYONE ELSE down,” he emphatically stated.

But isn’t he worried about the message it sends to loyal customers? He thinks it is sending the right message to ALL customers. “Everyone is busy these days and one thing I don’t want to compromise is my ability to get people what they need and get them on their way. I think customers understand this, especially if they have ever had to wait in line behind someone talking on the phone while they’re trying to order a sandwich,” he said. “Service is more than just getting the order right; it’s about the entire experience. If we give them a great sandwich, but all they remember is the guy in front of them taking too long to order, that’s what they’ll take away from the experience.”

Point well taken. It brings up the bigger issue of what is acceptable customer behavior and at what point do customers cross the line prompting you to act? In these days of the weakened economy, every sale is important, but can you ever know what price you are really paying to get a sale from a “bad” customer? In other words, have you ever put a price on the customers you have lost by trying to be all things to all customers?

No Compromise
At my local convenience store enough customers said something to the owner prompting him to act. He is hedging his bet that losing the one or two sales per week from the customers blabbing away on their cell phones is far more economical than losing repeat customers by compromising their shopping experience.

Plus, he said, if a customer doesn’t respect the store, employees or the other customers in line then losing their business is far from the worst thing in the world.

“Emergencies come up and people need to use their phone. We understand that. All we are asking is that you respect others by either stepping out of line when you’re on the phone or taking a breather long enough to place your order,” he said. “I don’t want to jeopardize the service of many for one customer, especially if he is not a regular.”

It’s a sound policy, and to a certain extent many operators have already taken steps to address issues like this. Industry leaders like Sheetz, Wawa, Rutter’s and Quick Chek are able to avoid such hassles and execute orders specifically tailored to the customers’ needs by offering touchscreen terminals. The terminals offer a little more leeway for customers who just can’t put down that cell phone.

For me, the issue is another reminder that respect is a two-way street and I would hope the message resonates with other consumers going forward.

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