Thief by Default

Seth Godin put up an insightful new post today titled Punishing the Outliers which relates to something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. In business, you run across a very small majority of people who do their best to cheat the system and/or do everything they can to get your product or service for free. Sometimes businesses choose to focus their attention on those people instead of the paying ones who actually make them money.

For example, I this little sign is posted at every fuel pump at one of the local BP stations:

Thief by Default

The sign gets its point across, but the language is extremely accusatory and negative, complete with multiple exclamation points, red lettering, and UPPERCASE YELLING. It almost seems like the station is assuming the worst of its customers.

It’s obvious this was quickly thrown together by a manager or employee annoyed by this reoccurring situation. I can appreciate their frustration, but this note is written from their viewpoint, not the customer’s. Writing something like the following might take an extra minute or two just to get the wording right, but it gets the point across without treating the customers like crap: “Please come see us inside if your receipt doesn’t print. This credit card reader could be having problems.”

So, you get the same end result (customer comes inside the store), but with a much different tone. It’s the classic, “It’s not you. It’s me.” Who cares if it’s not really the machine that has a problem? Being right isn’t what’s important. Completing the transaction while respecting the customer is.

It’s very easy to forget that something small like this note on a fuel pump is a piece of marketing. Everything a business communicates is marketing, for better or worse. Keeping that in mind, it’s not only important what you say, but how it’s said.

One reply on “Thief by Default”

Businesses haven’t gotten nutty about it. Best Buy is almost deplorable. Guitar Center needed to check my receipt, thoroughly check my bag and look me over in case any merchandise may be sticking out of my hair or collar. I bought a pack of guitar strings and a few guitar picks. Whatever, they now suck. I think that overly paranoid companies almost ought to be ripped off, for the sole purpose of showing us how right they are.

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