I recently wrote a positive post about my local bakery, La Boulange, so I suppose it’s only fair that I write a negative one!

One day last month I was in a hurry. I was headed to The Startup Conference so I could give airbrush tattoos at the UserVoice booth. I had to grab a car in about 10 minutes, but I was dying of hunger. I decided to head to my standby, La Boulange, for their amazing breakfast sandwich.

Cash register with the text (null) on it

The issue with the breakfast sandwich is that it comes with a side, which must be eaten with a fork. In addition to being more calories than I really want to eat, it’s not convenient when your window for eating breakfast is the walk from the bakery to your Zipcar.

So I asked: “Can I get the breakfast sandwich, but with no side? It’s ok, you can still charge me the same amount.”

The guy at the register frowned, and responded: “Yeah, unfortunately our system literally can’t do that. You have to get a side.”


Listen, I understand. I remember cash registers. I still use a lot of inflexible systems that can’t do what I want them to. It drives me crazy. But you have to realize that I am asking you to help me out, and you’re failing. I know the system can’t do it. But you are 5 feet away from the people making my breakfast. Can’t you just tell them, verbally, not to include a side? [As Chris clarified in the comments, this is likely because the employee isn’t empowered to break policy…which is exaclty the point.]

I see companies put themselves/their employees in this position far too often. The system won’t do something, so they shrug and say “sorry”.

“Sorry, our system can’t do partial refunds.”
“Sorry, we can’t get that item to you in time.”
“Sorry, our game doesn’t work on that system.”

Guess what: your customer doesn’t care how your system works. No, really. They don’t care one bit. They want what they want, and if you can’t deliver it, they’ll find someone who CAN do it.

Take the time to help your customers, even if it means circumventing your system. Walk the 3 feet to talk to the chef. Send someone a check if your system can’t do refunds. Give someone another game if it turns out your games only work on PC.

It’ll take you an extra couple of minutes, sure. But it might mean the difference between a lifelong customer or someone who flames you on Twitter (or worse, on a big blog like The Consumerist). That’s maybe $0.25 for the La Boulange employee to go out of their way versus $728 I might spend in a year. Seems like a pretty clear decision to me.

Photo courtesy of Sebastien Wiertz.

Photo courtesy of vnoel.