Saying No, Thank You, to Bad Customer Relations

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Consumers today are accustomed to earning points for their purchases, but coins for being courteous? How Nice.

And I do mean Nice, as in the jewel of southern France.

According to a story in NBC News, the Le Petite Syrah café in Nice will charge customers who say “thank you” less than those who do not. Add a good morning (bonjour!), and the price of un café drops from 7 euro to 1.4 euro.

The sign is actually a joke, the owner said. He and his wife, who run the shop, never charged more than 1.4 euro for a coffee. But they noticed their lunchtime crowd was becoming increasingly rude and stressed, so they added the sign to lighten the mood, and it did.

“They started at the beginning to say, ‘Hello, your highness, will you serve me one of your beautiful coffees,” he told NBC, “exaggerating it even more polite than the sign to try and get free coffee.”

This is one clever and creative way to turn potentially bad customers into good ones. Another strategy for dealing with bad customers, which loyalty markets frequently consider, is firing them. Northwest Airlines made such as decision five years ago, after Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg registered his 24th complaint in seven months.

Northwest stripped Ginsberg of his elite platinum status, so he filed yet one more complaint, this one in court. On Dec. 3, justices of the Supreme Court heard his argument. A decision is due this summer.

Ginsberg said his complaints to the airline, nine of which involved his bag arriving late at the carousel, were expressed in “very polite and cordial way.” The airline, which had given him 78,500 bonus miles and roughly $2,500 in reimbursements, apparently feels that niceties go only so far.

In France, a small café found that a chalkboard and a message could go a long way to improving customer relations. In the United States, an airline’s exasperation with an unhappy customer has brought the issue of loyalty member relations under the national spotlight.

I couldn’t find how often the attorneys for Northwest said “please” and “thank you” during their arguments in the courtroom. But if Le Petite Syrah is any indication, they should hope they did so often.

Lisa Biank Fasig
Lisa leads the creation of editorials and feature stories for COLLOQUY and oversees the work of contributing editors and writers. With 18 years of reporting experience, most in business and specifically consumer behavior, she is highly skilled at researching data and teasing out the trends. A background in graphic design enables her to see ideas in three dimensions and tell the story visually.

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