#TBT: How to Ruin a Good Thing

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: How to Ruin a Good Thing.

It’s very simple. Stop thinking about how it’s going to be perceived by your customer/patron/audience member.

I’m posting an extremely blurry picture [to the right], which you can blame on my less than expert photography. Allow me to explain. I was in line at a well-known Southern California supermarket when I saw this two-liter bottle of soda with a computer-printed note taped around it and a helium-filled balloon clipped to it, as you can kinda see. It says (and I’m paraphrasing):

“ATTENTION CUSTOMERS: If the cashier falls to ask you for a donation to our Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, you get this 2-liter bottle of soda for free. TOGETHER WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.”

Honestly, this is one of the worst moments in merchandising I’ve ever seen. The multiples levels of failure here make it hard to even know where to start.

So I’ll just pick a place and jump in.

• Punishing your employees publicly is never, ever a good idea. Creating an incentive for your customers to humiliate and punish your employees is an even worse idea. Anytime you see one of those signs that says, “If we don’t give you your receipt/smile/tell you about today’s special, you get your purchase free,” you know you’re in the presence of management who has no idea what customer service is.

Have you ever claimed your free purchase in one of these scenarios, even when the server didn’t do whatever trick management wanted them to do? I didn’t think so. The whole thing is embarrassing, confrontational and negative.

There might as well be a sign on the register that says, “We, the management, have no idea how to train people to do things that are important for our business, so we’re kinda hoping you, our customers, will do it for us.”


I mean, why not say that if you give $10 or more, we’ll give you a two-liter soda. I mean, as long as you’re giving away soda, why not make it a positive thing?

• Companies raise money for charities for a number of reasons, and certainly one of them is that it makes customers feel as though the company cares about something other than profits. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But why turn it into a horrible obligation? If your cashiers know they better solicit you for a donation to breast cancer research or they’re going to be punished, how pumped do you think they’re going to be about doing that? It’s hard to be a passionate advocate for a cause when you’ve been told that if you don’t do it, the next round of soda is on you.

Imagine the difference between management who spends time communicating the importance of the cause and the impact on the world that a successful fundraiser would have, and management who puts incredibly tacky bottles of soda out on the counter and tells you you’re in trouble if you don’t mention the breast cancer thing to every single person, however harried or miffed or struggling with three kids, who comes through the line.

• I’ll grant that it probably increases the frequency with which cashiers ask about the breast cancer thing versus doing nothing at all. But think of the cost. Customers now understand that this program means nothing to the company. That there’s probably just some number the company is trying to hit, and it’s pretty convincing evidence that this is all being done for appearances. (Nevermind that the appearance of this is incredibly bad … I’ll get to that next.)

So instead of being about breast cancer, I’ve just been forced to take an inside look at the organization’s company politics, and it’s ugly. It’s petty. It’s shortsighted. It’s nasty.

You were raising money for breast cancer, and now you’re just raising awareness … of how clueless you are.

• Didn’t anyone say, “Gosh, isn’t a soda bottle with a plain-looking note and a balloon tied to it a little tacky?”

It screams cheap. It screams thoughtless.

It does not scream, “We really care about curing breast cancer!”

Finally, if you’re wondering if my cashier asked me about the breast cancer program, he didn’t. I don’t blame him. I’d be the No. 1 supplier of free soda in the Pasadena area before I’d cave in to this kind of tawdry manipulation, however good the cause.

Hopefully, you’re not doing anything this drop-dead stupid, but remember that everything you do gets seen by customers, and everything they see has an impact.

Got a comment or question? Join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.

Sign Up for Emails