Sunday, February 15, 2009

Nine words at Dunkin’ Donuts (3)

In two earlier posts (1), (2), I discussed two clarity errors in a nine-word sign displayed in the drive-through window of a Dunkin’ Donuts shop.

The sign reads: “Please ask if you need condiments for your order” [sic: no period].

There is one more clarity error. The people who wrote and approved the copy were trying not to say this: “The company is willing to provide only those condiments that you need – not those you merely want or would like.”

This insinuated emphasis on customer needs rather than customer wants and likes is part of a growing indolence in retail and service companies.

Example: In many stores, cashiers today typically ask, “Do you need a bag?” The wording implies that they will give you a bag only if you need one – not because you would find one convenient. They used to say, “Would you like a bag?”

Example: When a customer thanks a clerk, waiter or cashier for some small courtesy, the reply is usually, “No problem.” It used to be, “You’re welcome.” Most service people used to be eager to please you; now they will please you only if it is not a “problem” for them to do so.

Example: When restaurant guests pay their checks with cash, many waiters ask, “Do you need change?” The traditional and polite custom was to bring back the change unless the guest said to keep it.

In effect, the waiters are now saying, “I’m assuming that you intended to leave me a tip. I’m further assuming that the amount of my tip is the difference between the check total and the amount of cash here, however large that difference may be. So I’ll just collect my tip right now – unless you tell me, out loud, that you need some of that difference.”

This is a contemptible hustle. It takes unfair advantage of the guests’ good manners and, possibly, shyness. For if a guest says, “Yes, I need change,” the waiter, already having established himself as a bully, may ask, “For what? Cab fare home?”

So, a large and growing number of retail and service businesses are saying, in effect: “We don’t care about what you would like or what you want. We will give you only what you need. And we – not you – will be the final judges of what you need.”

The Takeaway: If you run a retail or service business, use secret shoppers to find out whether your front-line employees are using the kind of language that you intend them to use. You may be shocked to discover the hostility some of your employees are conveying to your customers. Don’t underestimate the damage these saboteurs can do. Only a small percentage of the offended customers will bother to complain to you. The others will quietly switch to your competition and never bring you another dollar.

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