Thursday, June 13, 2013

If It's Essential to a Good Experience, Why Hide It?

Image courtesy of nizahbanana
Today I'm pleased to present a guest post by Jen Maldonado.

My one-woman campaign to defeat what I’ve termed “Gilded Fork Syndrome” was borne out of frustration (and no small amount of sarcasm) while wearing my consumer hat at a certain coffee shop chain near my office.

Short story long (bear with me; it ends well), I sat down to eat my just-purchased fruit cup after enduring a long wait to order it in the first place, only to realize I had not been given a fork to enable me to do so. I quickly apologized to the friend I’d met for lunch and excused myself to set off on what would become nothing short of a treasure hunt.

Were the forks on the counter near the register?  No.

Were they somewhere tucked away near the prepared foods in the refrigerated case the fruit came from?  Nope.

Were they over at the condiment stand beside the sugar and cream for doctoring up the coffee?  Nu-uh.

Were they atop ANY flat surface at ALL in the shop where other, clearly less-prized, items like napkins, stirrers and lids were being made readily accessible to paying customers like myself?  No-sir-ee.

Puzzled, I stepped back into line to await my turn for eye-contact – since clearly standing off to the side with an inquisitive look on my face sending "please help me" vibes was getting me nowhere!  And all the while, I was preparing mentally for that imminent cringe-worthy moment when the barista would extend his finger and condescendingly point out, “They’re right over there.” (Duh.)  But even more baffling was the actual reply received, spoken as the employee bent over to reach beneath the cash register on his side of the counter: “We keep them down here.”

Huh??  Speechless, I thanked him and returned outside to the patio table where my patient friend awaited me and had somehow resisted the urge to send out a search party during my prolonged absence in pursuit of this elusive implement.

“Forks of gold, apparently,” was all I could mutter as I apologized for abandoning her.  “Seems they wanted to keep them away from us corporate riff-raff.”

In all seriousness, why on earth would an eatery take something so essential as a FORK and stash it away somewhere completely inaccessible by its clientele?  My purchased product was already in hand; I just couldn’t consume it in an elegant fashion without this tool designed to facilitate its delivery. 

Granted, I could have gotten by with a crude workaround such as eating with my fingers like a caveman.  Certainly the caliber of the meal itself would have remained unchanged despite the two methods of intake being markedly different – just as my likelihood to return or recommend would have been despite the identical quality of the purchase in question.

In fact, even though I ultimately got my hands on that figuratively gilded fork just the same as if it were presented to me up front, the difficulty encountered while hunting it down managed to degrade my experience nonetheless.  Just goes to show, sometimes it’s not only the end state that matters, but also the means to that end and how painless it was getting to where X marks the spot.

So, what trove of useful tools is each of our companies making its customers hunt for?  What are we hiding away under lock-and-key that could potentially facilitate a more elegant experience with the products or services that we represent?

Few things are simultaneously more appreciated and resented than being provided with a quick tip, lesson learned, or best practice that immediately simplifies and improves your experience, only to make you wonder why in the world you had to make do for so long without it.  Tracking down such buried treasure in our own organizations and proactively surfacing it to our customers will bring rewards to all!

Jen Maldonado has 15 years’ experience in B2B customer relationship management, and has served in fully dedicated Customer Experience Management roles for the last 6 years.  A Certified Net Promoter® Associate, she is passionate about integrating the Voice of the Customer into decisions large and small, and about celebrating the successes of team members who deliver delightful experiences.


  1. Jen, good for you for not interrupting other customers to get your fork! In all too many situations, a customer in your shoes would interrupt another customer who was placing their order. It's always very rude to the other customer when this happens. What's worse is most employees will stop taking the order and attend to the interrupting customer.

    It's annoying to not receive a fork and then spend time looking for one, but I commend you for being polite in how you handled it.

    1. Hi, Jeff ~ Never thought to look at it from that perspective! :-)

      Adds another layer into the mix: adequately supplying customers with what they need for an optimized experience will not only ensure their own experience starts out well, but can also protect the experience of others around them (in a retail environment like this, at least) in the event things go awry and the slighted customer doesn't react gracefully.

      Appreciate your kind words! /Jen

  2. Jen,

    The really worrying thing is they were put there on purpose.

    Presumably they had a problem with customers taking more forks than they were entitled to.

    So this was simply a management control to reduce "fork theft"

    Clearly the management team are right to focus on shrinkage

    And you should probably go to another store in another neighbourhood as their customers are no doubt fully tooled up with plastic knives as well


    1. I know, right?

      Giggling at your plastic knives jab, James. :-)

      Honestly makes you wonder when places are going to understand the concept of lifetime customer value and the power of (negative OR positive) word of mouth!

      My employer's headquarters is just yards from this place (a major chain that starts and ends with an "s" by the way) and, really, you have to go out of your way to *not* go there. Needless to say, I do, however.

      Over a plastic fork. /Jen

  3. Hi!

    It amazes me endlessly. It took me a while to notice that Starbucks do this intentionally with both the spoons and forks - not handing them out when they are serving you.

    I took to leaning over the counter and helping myself. I enjoy my visits to Starbucks and the UK chain Nero, but I have to say that I've now decamped to using small local independent coffee shops... they seem to have their act together much better than their corporate rivals...

    1. Hi, Kittie! Well, the secret's out. The offending utensil-hiding organization has been recognized through its admirably consistent enforcement of this apparently GLOBAL corporate policy!!

      OK, playing devil's advocate: Let's *say* stowing away forks and spoons out of customers' reach for lofty loss-prevention purposes made perfect business sense. Wouldn't it then be MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER to hand them out at the get-go, knowing how scarce they are going to be after the sale?

      (Only in context-sensitive situations, of course! Clearly I don't need a fork with my latte, but with my fruit cup, yes please.)

      My guilty pleasure reality show (OK, besides Real Housewives!) is Undercover Boss. I think the CEO of Starbucks is definitely overdue to star in an episode! Nothing like trying to walk in the shoes of your own customers to get a good feel for what budget-driven policies like this do for business.

      At the company I work for, for example, we all use our own Enterprise software under with a relabeled "Dogfood" logo. The saying here in the U.S. is that we should "eat our own dogfood." I understand that in the UK the equivalent that resonates better is to "drink our own champagne." (Admittedly preferable!) :-)

      Thanks for your comment! /Jen

  4. Hi Jen,
    A horror story of managing a business through analysis of cost items in a financial spreadsheet. It's amazing how unthinking management can become when they get further and further away from the customer and focus on just the numbers.


    1. You nailed it, Adrian. The bigger the gap between senior leadership and real-life customer experiences, the less likely it is customers will be considered in everyday business decisions.

      I run our Client Advisory Board at my company and earlier this year I invited all our CAB members to our headquarters for a live Voice of the Client panel with key onsite team members. They each shared what they liked most and least about their experience with our company, from their personal perspective as well as advocating for their internal stakeholders they had polled in advance. I joked when starting the session and introducing the panel, "Ever wonder who are these things we call clients, and what are they thinking??" Sadly, my tongue-in-cheek comment still seems to be the norm in some organizations.

      Thanks for weighing in! /Jen