Is the customer always right?
Even when their request (which they may well be willing to pay for) offends the sensibilities and standards of a purveyor of goods/services?
Maybe I should rephrase the question: If there is no inconvenience or cost to a business person, are they obligated to alter their product to meet the desires of a patron? And if the business person refuses to do so, is the patron justified in being miffed?
Recently two stories about coffee have been in the news: The first concerns Intelligentsia Coffee (an independent coffee roaster here in Chicago) announcing that its three cafes would no longer sell “venti” (20 oz) drinks. Doug Zell, Intelligentsia’s chief executive, explained that serving coffee in 20 oz sizes damaged the integrity of the product. If you want Intelligentsia coffee in one of their corporate-owned cafes, you are either going to drink it their way or not at all. Some Chicagoans are annoyed and are accusing Intelligentsia of snobbery.
The other story involves Murky Coffee of Arlington, Virgina. When a Mr. Jeff Simmermon requested iced espresso, he was informed that it was against company policy to prepare espresso in such a manner. Words were exchanged and Mr. Simmermon took the establishment to task in his blog. Nick Cho, the owner of Murky, responded via comment on Mr. Simmermon’s blog. In his comment he both explained his policy on iced espresso and threatened harm to Mr. Simmermon’s genitalia.
This “Murky” matter is now national news with people debating “the customer is always right” vs “professional integrity”.
I favor professional integrity, myself. This isn’t just about coffee, it’s about aesthetics, morals, and principle.
Those of us old enough to remember the 1970s will recall the old Burger King commercial which assured patrons that they could “have it their way”. Yet while BK was customizing its odious “food”, a quiet revolution was taking place on the west coast. There, Alice Waters had established Chez Pannisse, a restaurant that was decidedly not about customer whims, but about teaching people to eat well. Chef Waters prepared a meal each day (from fresh, in-season, local ingredients), and customers ate it. (If customers didn’t want to eat the meal, they could go to Burger King instead.)
Because Alice Waters stuck to her guns and refused to cater to the lowest common denominator, we now have access to all sorts of quality foodstuffs, both in restaurants and in shops. Waters knew that the customer wasn’t always right, because, quite frankly, the customer can’t always be right. The customer needs education before s/he can be “right” about the proprietor’s specialty. People like Waters, Cho, and Zell would rather lose a customer, even suffer some ill-will, rather than profit from ignorance.
I call that good business. God bless them, and others like them, for refusing to succumb to demands for mediocrity.
Have a great weekend!