it’s the little things

I despise and resent pre-paying for gas. I find it to be a major pain in the rear. Either I pay at the pump with a card and then go in and pay again (because I’m probably going to get a snack or soda while I’m there), pay once and forego my snack, or make several trips back and forth and stand in line a few times.

It’s interesting how quickly we humans adjust to and even expect such poor service. With nearly 100% of gas stations now requiring pre-pay we deem such lousy treatment acceptable and the norm. Why?

Hmmm. That’s a bit tougher. Certainly we all understand that this prevents drive offs, but how big of a problem is it really? Imagine if you couldn’t try on clothes until after you’d paid for them because it helped prevent shop lifting. Makes sense, but is it an acceptable solution, and would anyone shop there? No. That’s why stores use other measures to prevent theft.

I’ll admit, this sounds like a silly point of contention if only because the pre-pay system is so prevalent. Aren’t their bigger injustices to rail against? Sure. But how many other industries could inconvenience their customers, treat everyone who shops there like a criminal, and still thrive?

I go out of my way to pay more for gas because there is a local convenience store that will let me pump first. That’s how strongly I feel about it. Not everyone feels the way I do, but I can’t help but wonder about other people’s pet peeves. I’m sure other examples abound of people accepting higher price or having to go a bit out of their way because they prefer the service, selection, product, whatever at a certain store.

The challenge is that when everyone’s doing it and customers don’t have a choice it’s hard to identify these areas. I remember when I first moved to the Midwest back in the mid-nineties. I was in a mildly rural area and customer service was horrendously bad. But it was so universally terrible it was simply a case of “it is what it is” and no one knew different or cared. Then the big box stores came in. Say what you will about them, they had much better service and forced all the other companies to play catch up. Within a few years, the overall customer service for the entire area had improved markedly.

You can really only compete on price or differentiation. Being lowest cost is a losing battle for most. That leaves differentiation which means providing a product or service different enough to be worth paying a little more for. That might be selection, customer service, outstanding return policy, unique product or knowledge, etc.

Whatever your business or field, I can spend five minutes on google and find someone offering it cheaper. Let’s put this in an HR perspective (please tweak to think about from your business/field’s point of view): it wouldn’t take long to find a vendor that I could outsource your entire HR department to for less than your company is paying for internal HR right now. Keeping HR internal is not the cheapest option. So what value are you providing that differentiates you from your competition?

Where are you making life more difficult for your customers because it’s more convenient for you? What are the things your customers really value? What could you do that would be free or low-cost that would make life easier for your customers? These questions are doubly valuable if you are in a support department and have internal customers. Without external options it’s easy to get slack. Try this on: if your internal customers had three other options for your product or service would they choose you? Why should they?


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