Think Outside the Cup and Saucer

There were four of us at dinner.  After the meal, the server delivered the dessert menu and, when ordering we also ordered coffee.  Three ordered “regular” coffee, the fourth requested “decaf.”  Desserts and coffee were served and enjoyed while our conversation continued.  Every so often a server, carrying two pitchers, refilled the coffee cups and knowingly poured three cups from one pitcher and one from the other.  He never asked who wanted which type of coffee.

As we were leaving, one of us asked the server how he knew which of us preferred “decaf.”  “Simple, the three of you drinking “regular” coffee have black cups with white saucers, we serve “decaf” in white cups with black saucers.”  Instead of “thinking outside t­­­­he box” these people have been “thinking outside the cup and saucer!”

As customers at restaurants, we experience this situation all the time.  Our conversation is interrupted so we can get a coffee refill.  It’s not annoying because it is so commonplace.  But, when our conversation is not interrupted because someone solves the problem, it seems like a small wonder and is an example of excellent, innovative management.

What an elegant, easy solution.  The server doesn’t have to interrupt the conversation to find who is having which coffee, there is no mix-up or confusion, and everyone gets what they want.  More importantly, it demonstrates how deeply the “customer satisfaction” thought process has gone in that particular establishment, and it is a lesson for everyone who manages a business.  

Imagine how many opportunities for little confusions exist in delivering any product or service, from not greeting a customer properly to forgetting to give back a credit card, and everything in-between.  Management that really wants to deliver a superior customer service experience systematically looks at every possible opportunity for confusion or error and attempts to eliminate these confusions as they are identified.  In the case of the cup and saucer solution, there was no cost expended to solve the problem, just a little time and creativity.  

Since that experience at the restaurant, I’ve been thinking about how I can make my actions more automated, more efficient, more customer-centric.

So I’d like to challenge you to identify a little confusion or opportunity for error in your business that can be overcome by thinking through the process and developing a low cost / no cost solution.  Instead of thinking outside the box, let’s call it “thinking outside the cup and saucer.”

Question or comment to Larry: