Be A Good Customer


We’re all after a deal. We all want great service. The user experience and customer journey are vitally important for us, the users and the customers. That puts the burden to delight us on product and service providers. They, no doubt, wouldn’t have it any other way.

What about us?

Gosh, that question comes out wrong, doesn’t it? Can we stop referring to the providers and think even more about me, the customer?! Sheesh. Some people…

What I mean is, how might we as customers treat our product and service providers with as much care as they do us?

Come to think of it, what is a good customer beyond a perpetual, loyal transactor? How might that good customer affect the business-to-customer relationship?

A better question just might be how might a good customer affect the customer-to-business relationship? One thing is for sure. Being a good customer helps make sense of the workplace and improves our careers.

Something More Than Transacting

Business, in theory, is all about the customer. That’s a good thing! And for you and me, that’s great!

Businesses cater to us for the following reasons:

  1. Provide value (e.g. utility, access, satisfaction, etc.) that we don’t already have.
  2. Earn our loyalty to buy again.
  3. Earn our resources to expand their own resources.

Of course there are many, many other reasons, but I want to stop right there with intent.

Number 1 on that list is altruistic, but those that follow are transactional. More reasons are, too.

Business is a barter. A transaction.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Heck, I Googled ‘being a good customer’ to learn how others think about this topic. The results were based on furthering the transaction, as in if you’re a good customer, then you can get a better deal or better treatment.

Isn’t that what celebrity chefs advise? Get to know your neighborhood butcher or fish monger. He or she will give preference to those with whom he or she is familiar. For an amazing example, wait for the story about former basketball player, Shaquille O’Neal, later in this post.

Does it have to be that way, though?

I don’t take anything away from transactions or business itself. To the contrary, being a good customer in the way I think about it accepts the transaction as a given.

We’re considering what’s beyond the transaction; being a good customer is something more.

People

Being a good customer is pure and intrinsically gratifying given the business supported. The reason is simple. People.

Until robotic grocery store carts gather themselves in the rain, café tables clean themselves when the line is out the door, and peaches harvest themselves in the summer heat, the world’s 7 or 8 billion people actively and collectively barter pursuits to survive and thrive.

Business is about people.

So here’s a thought. As customers, let’s all be people instead of users.

The perspective is akin to what I argued in The Employee, that the organization’s perspective of its people matters. There’s a reflective property–indeed, a humanity–that an organization can have of its employees, because those employees are by definition people, not resources. Similarly, customers may choose to view their product and service providers as organizations of people–just like them–and not the business down the street or at the shopping plaza.

All the Same, Right?

Customers. People. Users.

They all seem the same. They’re not.

Customers are a party to a transaction. Users find utility in a product or service. The word people is not bound by such activity, barter or business for that matter.

People transcend.

As the common thread, people can relate to businesses in ways customers and users may not. How so?

Let’s first see how people supplant this common thread of humanity with the transactional substitute, gratuity. That as a segue, let’s have a look at delighting the customer as the business version of going above and beyond. With the extremes of transactional relations understood, we can then cross the threshold – beyond the transaction itself.

“Being a good customer entirely rests upon the choice of the customer. And that serves everyone who does business with that organization.”

This choice to become a good customer brings otherwise undiscoverable benefits to everyone involved, including other customers. ‘Customers, people and users all the same? No way.

Gratuity & Delighting

Gratuity

Merriam-Webster.com defines gratuity as “something given voluntarily or beyond obligation usually for some service.” [1]

Note that word obligation.

I highlighted this same word in my last post, Should, as reason why “not to should on someone.”

Exerting one’s motivations and aspirations given personality and character–and their resulting worldview–unto another is the outcome of should.

My take is that is wrong.

Should, itself, means “used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions; indicating a desirable or expected state…” [2]

Those definitions are bricks in a building that isn’t ours to build.

As customers, we shouldn’t be good to the business.

Similar to our choice to do business with product or service providers, we can choose to be good back to them, or not. Businesses are comprised of people, yes, and they exist to provide us value that we don’t already have. What a great place to start deciding.

Isn’t that the effect of gratuity?

Gratuity is the closest means we have to being a good customer within the confines of the transaction. It’s an extreme.

Photo by Dan Smedley on Unsplash.

After the transaction, we tip restaurant servers, hotel personnel, café staff members, etc. That’s not necessarily being a good customer. Restaurant servers, for example, have vastly reduced wages in some cases because gratuity is assumed to become part of their income.

Don’t get me wrong. Gratuity is a good thing. And, it’s encouraged. It’s not the same as being a good customer to the business, though.

Need more proof?

Basketball legend, Shaquille O’Neal, once said he tipped a restaurant server $4,000.

When I’m at restaurants, I like to show people my appreciation. So when they come up to the table, I say, “The quicker I get my order, the bigger your tip will be.” And then the food will come fast. When we get ready to leave, I’ll ask them, “What do you want?” And the most someone said was $4,000. And I said, ‘OK. No problem.’ [3]

Why is this not being a good customer for the business?

Regardless of whether the story gets out (promotion) and/or if the server shares the $4,000 with fellow servers, bartenders, chefs, bussers, managers, owners and vendors, the gratuity was effectively part of the business barter, especially as O’Neal intended it. He gamed the restaurant’s system to serve his order before others got theirs. It became a factor in the barter for which he entered into the business in the first place.

Delighting

Fairly or not, the restaurant O’Neal went to showed its own design of gratuity. Yes, business has its own established demonstration which is, too, an extreme.

Delighting the customer is the product or service provider version of gratuity that inspired this blogpost, actually.

Photo credit: Brian Bloom; image used with permission; approval required for any outbound use of Seth Godin‘s name or image.

I subscribe to Seth Godin’s excellent blog eponymously called Seth’s Blog (https://seths.blog/). It’s a daily nugget of wisdom up to and including “Aha!” moments (for the rest of us, at least!). Godin, an author, speaker and teacher does in his blog as a great comedian would in a stand-up routine. He transcends subject matter into what’s relatable….and then he has a message. Brilliant. His readers get to think about applicable and multi-disciplinary observations that resonate in ways we wouldn’t expect. Appropriate given the theme of this blogpost, Godin helped organize The Carbon Almanac: It’s Not Too Late, i.e. how to be a good customer of Planet Earth.

White glove service was the September 24, 2022 entry in Seth’s Blog. It made me think about the inverse of white glove service, or what it meant to be a good customer. He wrote

The pointlessness of the white gloves is actually a big part of it….As soon as we start to wonder if slightly smudged grey gloves are okay (“no one will notice,”) or look to others for what is acceptable, then we might as well simply do the minimum.

…do it all the way. Or don’t bother. [4]

Similar to how I highlighted the word ‘obligation’ earlier, may I direct attention to Godin’s phrase “look to others for what is acceptable.” There are two other ways to read that phrase:

  1. Race to the bottom.
  2. Commoditization.

Godin’s conclusion is, I think, correct. “…do it all the way. Or don’t bother.” This activity–delighting the customer–is like gratuity for the customer, and operates within the confines of the transaction.

Consider from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNC Wilmington) Cameron School of Business: “Customer delight is defined as surprising a customer by exceeding his or her expectations, thus creating a positive emotional reaction. This emotional reaction leads to word-of-mouth communication. In this way, customer delight directly affects the sales and profitability of a company, as it helps to distinguish the company and its products and services from the competition.” [5]

The first portion of that definition is altruistic. As it goes on, the definition speaks to strategic purpose.

UNC Wilmington relies on strategic language as reason to delight the customer.

To explain, “distinguish…from the competition” is effectively a group of codewords for strategy, or the foundation of value distribution. Necessarily, there’s a connotation of obligation, isn’t there? Similar to the way I shortlisted how businesses cater to us at the beginning of this post, there’s the wise transactional component to delighting the customer.

Mine is not a cynical view. I believe there is nothing wrong with delighting the customer! It’s healthy – more than healthy, in fact.

As I wrote from the outset, the burden on product and service providers is to delight us, the customers. Businesses wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s their choice. And for you and me, that’s great!

Gratuity and delight start first with the (voluntary) choice to give to another. What a positive conviction. These happen at the very end of the transaction, on the brink of being a good customer. Gratuity and delight are the extremes that arguably reinforce the other.

So how does the good customer play a role, and how so beyond the transaction itself?

Why Be A Good Customer?

Perhaps of greater significance than the value to be gained from the transaction is the value creation after choosing to be a good customer. Let’s break down this idea.

Benefits to All

Customers engage businesses or vice versa to transact goods and services. From the result, the customer gains utility and a memory created. Businesses can make remarkable or even extend the memory created by transactionally delighting the customer; likewise, the customer has the option to enhance utility by offering transactional gratuity. It is at this point (and/or after being delighted, if so) when a customer may choose to be a good customer.

Doing so benefits everyone involved in the form of distinguished, favorable culture–that the business itself cannot create on its own–and value creation in the minds of the good customer and even fellow customers thereafter. In fact, the two outcomes reinforce one another and future transactions.

“Being a good customer is pure and intrinsically gratifying given the business supported. The reason is simple. People.”

A terrific example of this was an anecdote from my post, Just Be Nice: A Lesson In Path Dependency. I wrote:

In a café to write my last post, Why I Journal About Work, I hopped in line to get another cup of coffee. I noticed a lady sitting by herself. It turned out that she was waiting for the woman who arrived in line behind me.

[This was when I chose to be a good customer.]

“It’s a day off from work, and I’m in no rush. Would you like to jump ahead of me?”

Thankful, the lady did so.

Do you know what?

She bought the next person in line a coffee. Wow!

For those unfamiliar with coffee café culture, this happens more often than you might think.

A distinguished, favorable culture developed and value creation resulted without either the direct or indirect involvement of the business. This situation involved customers acting on their own.

The business had applied to it by the customers’ own choosing what I called “coffee café culture.” That was buying the next person in line his or her drink. The value creation turned into goodwill amongst the customers and, by extension, the business itself; being part of a cohort, and what felt like a free drink despite paying for the next person’s.

The memory created for those directly involved and indirectly by onlookers or those who heard stories later could not be generated by the business itself.

Choose to Be A Good Customer

Before those benefits occur, there must be a choice on the part of the customer. I’ve alluded to two reasons why a customer would be a good customer as opposed to simply a transactor. They are pure and intrinsic gratification, and the fact that people make businesses.

Circumstances that lead to a customer’s choice to go beyond the transaction may be observation, empathy, compassion, desire, sense of responsibility, appreciation, conscientiousness, and humanity. Eventually, even, there may be habit or expectation. I’ll address these practical matters of business culture shortly.

How about some workable examples that may spark the choice to be a good customer. Give some thought toward the following:

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.
  1. Someone has to gather those carts (or carriages, depending where you live) at the grocery store parking lot.
  2. Someone has to bus your table at the café.
  3. Someone answering the phone has feelings and matters going on in their life – their interests have boundaries beyond the reason you’re calling.
  4. Someone put that product on the shelf that you grabbed on a quick trip to the drug store.
  5. Someone hung that shirt you just tried on.
  6. Someone promptly brought to your hotel room that extra towel you wanted.
  7. Someone drove the 18-wheeler truck that delivered the tiles you did-it-yourself to change the look of your bathroom.
  8. Someone harvested the peach you popped into your lunch pail.

I promise. There are 1,000,000s more reasons why to be a good customer than there are reasons why businesses cater to us.

One reason for disproportion is that it’s many to one. There are many more of us customers than there are businesses out there.

Another reason is that we are the businesses. We all have jobs. We all receive services, paid, public or otherwise. We’re all consumers. We are all people, and we can all practice sympathy, empathy and compassion, etc.

Let’s treat one another as colleagues.

What Does A Good Customer Do?

Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash.

Maintaining cleanliness for others, sustaining organization of materials so others may find something you have (“I noticed you’re running low on soap in the Men’s Room.”), and engaging service workers as people and not part of the building all serve as examples of how one might be a good customer. There’s a humanity involved. It’s an indelible honor. Participation garners community trust-building.

These actions become culture components for the business that it can neither demand of its customers–it’s not part of the transaction–nor can it achieve on its own. Being a good customer entirely rests upon the choice of the customer. And that serves everyone who does business with that organization.

Just from the examples above, there’d be cleaner aisles and more organized inventory. The bathrooms would support greater cleanliness and preparedness for hygiene. Those who work for the business would feel appreciated and reciprocate easier than doing so just for the job or for the gratuity.

Want more examples?

As I’ve alluded, say, in a café, the customer leaves the table as clean as when he or she sat down. How about opening the café door for the person behind you who happens to be a mother pushing a carriage, and holding a baby in the other arm. What about picking up and handing over a coin someone dropped. Or, what about stashing the lost coin in the Tip jar when no one’s looking rather than pocketing it. How about offering your accessible table to someone with a broken ankle and a walking boot to instead choose to stand at the bar-style counter without the window view.

The point is, individual action materially provides value for all customers and the business alike.

Anyway, these are actions befitting a good person. Aren’t they?

Colleagues: The Internal Customer

There are customers within businesses, too. Let’s not forget.

In Should, I wrote about the comedic character, Nick Burns. He was awful to his internal customers, or those who worked for a different department that requested his help. If he had had Godin’s white gloves, then Burns likely would have used ’em to smack colleagues across the face with name calling, shaming and condescension. Heck, he might have simply smacked ’em for the sake of it!

That was comedy.

In our workplaces, we can focus on treating our colleagues and coworkers better. Our activities at home as consumers translate really well into the workplace (and vice versa, by the way).

Being a good customer for either a business or internally as an employee isn’t about transactions, it isn’t about doing someone else’s job for them, and it isn’t about simply being polite for the sake of politeness. It’s about respect and appreciation for the person behind the job, the persons behind the business.

So whether you are a part of a system or a team, the meaning still holds, albeit with different recipients of the output.

Respect and appreciation internally has to do with ensuring the other person’s pride remains in tact, they are situated to do the job to the best of their abilities (given your output), and one doesn’t hamper another’s ability to make decisions given their scope and personal ambition.

The effects are inexhaustibly trust, synergy, efficiency, continuous improvement, risk mitigation, tolerable governance and much, much more.

Memories: The Good Customer’s Individual & Transactional Measure of Success

“Wonderful memories”

We can learn from being a good customer by how the best in the business sees success. Making memories equals success, because one of the outcomes of a transaction is a memory created.

This idea was new to me before writing this post. Because of it, I’m so glad to have endeavored to put this article together. The more I thought about making memories, the more I realized it’s true.

Thomas Keller is the famed Chef/Owner of the world-renowned restaurant, The French Laundry, in Yountville, California. In 2010 he delivered a talk during which he covered a range of topics. One of them touched on his definition of success. He said:

People ask me a lot of times about success. And, I’ve thought about it for years. I realize success is not about fame. It’s certainly not about fortune, recognition, awards,… It’s about memories. It’s about the memories we collect throughout our lives. And I’m sure each one of you have wonderful memories about things that you’ve done in your life, and a lot of that was about success. That defines success for me. [6]

Admittedly, I’m equating professional success as Keller described it with the outcome of a transaction. But if one listens to Keller’s description of the value he strives to produce, then it’s pretty obvious.

“Wonderful memories” is what he and his team venture to create.

Memory Creation: Progressing the Business and the Customer’s Value Proposition

(I think it’s so important to hear him deliver these next quotes that I’ve provided this clipped YouTube video link.)

In that talk Keller showed a graphic of a dining room table. “This is what you see when you come to our restaurant. Why? Because this is about you. This is about you as an individual, your experience at that restaurant.” [6] Subsequently, Keller showed an endless white canvas of groups of people – an affinity diagram of departments and specialities. “But I see a lot of different things. Most of them are 100s of individuals that are dedicated and committed to you. Only you. You. By yourself.” [6]

By defining atmosphere and experience, visibly scattering his massive staff of employees for the sole purpose of speaking to them as individuals, and creating real-time memories for his customers—incidentally a service delivery of scaling-up: recognizing current resources and opportunities, and then pairing them with new resources and opportunities—Thomas Keller explained business success.

Scaling-up at the fine dining level, no less, assures us that a business’s value proposition may, too, be scaled-up when its customers choose to be good customers. They expect more when the business’s sense of delighting the customer advances. Norms advance.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash.

“The user experience and customer journey are vitally important for us, the users and the customers. That puts the burden to delight us on product and service providers.”

Scaling-Up Trickles Down

From the world-class to the generic, a business can ensure, for example, that its bathrooms’ soap never depletes through business processes.

Business processes exist to address problems or gaps in strategy (no strategy is perfect) in order to generate some value for the customer. Common areas that indirectly and positively support customers’ product and service experiences starts as a customer want.

  • The good customer reports no soap in the bathroom.
  • As time goes on, the business picks up on the expectation and addresses it through business processes.
  • Eventually, soap levels in the bathrooms becomes but a memory when the bathrooms are consistently equipped. Such-and-such business? Oh their bathrooms are always clean and fully stocked.

While the customer’s delight is transactional, the result of being a good customer progresses the business by exhibiting further what the customer values.

Like Seth Godin said about the “pointlessness of the white gloves [being] actually a big part of it,” a perpetuating, cutting-edge standard at the highest levels of production and service exists.

For example, at Keller’s level, the target customer expects ethereal culinary beauty, mastery, and a dining experience that he or she cannot obtain anywhere else in the world. The culture in a world-class business is so refined that fully-stocked soap in the bathrooms, I presume, is a given at The French Laundry and other businesses like it – not something a good customer must point out. It’s utility already provided.

It is this idea of conscious and subconscious memory creation that is central to being a good customer, then. And these memories flourish in the minds of customers to the extent of prompting

  • The customer to gratuitously give back; and
  • The business to strive to delight.

I’ve written in the past about organizational culture, and how assumptions eventually lead to culture. A phrase I used was “assumptions of efficacy.” That’s a really technical way of saying, from the customer’s standpoint, expectation. In fine dining, the expectations are outrageous as compared to your neighborhood café. It’s the trickle-down effect of what works for the best that can work for the up-and-coming.

Conclusion

Being a good customer is part of a system of advancement. This advancement is why being a good customer makes sense of the workplace and improves our careers.

The choice to extend one’s engagement beyond the transaction, simply put, is an opportunity to both derive and generate more value. It works internally, too, in that synergy and a positive working environment builds. Creating memories is key for the customer-to-business feedback into the business-to-customer transaction; hence, a system of advancement is the outcome of being a good customer.


[1] “Gratuity.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gratuity. Accessed 24 Sept 2022.

[2] “Should”. Apple Dictionary. Apple, Inc., Accessed 3 Sept 2022.

[3] Gould, Andrew. “Shaquille O’neal Once Tipped $4,000 Because A Restaurant Server Asked”. Bleacher Report, 2017, https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2699963-shaquille-oneal-once-tipped-4000-because-a-restaurant-server-asked. Accessed 29 Sept 2022.

[4] Godin, Seth. “White Glove Service”. Seth’s Blog, 2022, https://seths.blog/2022/09/white-glove-service/. Accessed 24 Sept 2022.

[5] UNC Wilmington. “Customer Delight: Center For Sales Excellence & Customer Delight: Cameron School Of Business: UNCW”. csb.uncw.edu, https://csb.uncw.edu/sales-center/customerdelight.html. Accessed 30 Sept 2022.

[6] Keller, Thomas. The Reach Of A Restaurant: Thomas Keller At TEDxEast. 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QC_hDKzm900. Accessed 21 Sept 2022.


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