By Andrew Angus on February 19, 2009

We ran across an novel concept expressed in an article in GlobeandMail.com which runs counter to what many of us think of as a best practices model to follow when it come to dealing with your customer base. Here is the gist of it.

GlobeandMail chronicled the story of the City Café Bakery in Kitchener, Ontario. This coffee shop/bakery operates on the honor system, whereby the customers are duty-bound to pay for their purchases as they make them, with no oversight from the store or its employees. Prices are clearly marked, and they’ve been at this for some eight years now, and have only come up seriously short ($20) once. Co-owners John Bergen and Rudolph Dorner say that “Our theory is, we get ripped off by about 2 per cent and we get overpaid by about 2½ per cent,” and that “Payment is not optional, we price the bagel for you, but we trust you to pay it. Just like you trust us not to poison you.”

Refreshing idea, but the jaded among us immediately leap to our less than wonderful locales where this might be problematic at best. However, it does bring up some interesting questions about how we live our lives and conduct our businesses.

Trust, honor, and human interaction come to mind here. When we trust people to do the right thing, will they? In this case, they most often do. Whether that is a function of a singularly agreeable location, or a sign that humankind is at the core trustworthy, we can debate. Probably a bit of both. The interesting part by way of application for our businesses is that it IS a testament to treating your customers with honor and respect, and seeing that come back around to you in spades. Would it happen in businesses where there is not as much human interaction? Probably not.

There have been attempts at this in ways that don’t include the human touch, such as is requisite with a restaurant or cafe. They haven’t worked. Municipalities that have tried to lend out bicycles in various cities across the country resulted in stolen or trashed bikes. It seems that when people are presented with this face to face, the inclination is stronger to do the right thing. (What do they do when no one’s watching?)

There are many ways one might incorporate this type of idea into their business. You might solicit customer input as to how they’d like to handle things, within certain parameters, of course. (It’s not free!) It doesn’t always have to be about price or payments, either. Perhaps trusting them to detail their needs will serve their purpose better, and ultimately yours as well. This not only gives your customers a feeling of being respected, but will no doubt generate loads of customer loyalty and explode that most mercurial but immensely valuable commodity, word of mouth!

What could we do to better engage our customers, harness their ideas and work together?

 

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