Stupid Customer!

I recently visited a local coffee shop, and happened to overhear the customer in front of me mispronounce the name of one of the beverages on the menu.

“Can I please have a tall LOTTY?” she asked.

The barista did not quite sneer, but managed to convey that emotion when she said, “Oh, you mean a LAH-TAY?”

The customer meekly answered in the affirmative, and moved to the end of the counter. She paid her tab. But I wonder if she will ever go back to that coffee shop again?

I also wonder what was the purpose of correcting the customer?

As near as I can see the only reason for doing it was to send the message: “you pronounced it wrong.”

That much is clear, and, I think, accurate.

Anything I say about the motivation that the barista had in correcting the customer would be mere speculation. Was the barista jaded, angry, disdainful, malicious? I don’t really know.

I do know that she cost her store a potential bundle of money from that one customer, who was made to feel stupid.

The most alarming thing about this story is, I’m pretty sure the owner of the coffee shop would have been appalled to learn about this. I’m sure it’s not his intent that his customers be treated with scorn. I’m sure he simply doesn’t know.

Which leads me to ask you this potentially uncomfortable question: do such things happen at your business?

I’m certain you don’t intend for them to happen… But do they happen anyway?

How do you know?

Something to think about.

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14 thoughts on “Stupid Customer!

  1. A receptionist did this to me once when inwas calling on a Neurosurgeon. She corrected my pronunciation when I pronounced HIS name the THE WAY he did to me. Could not believe may ears

  2. So, that means that even if the customer is fool and idiot, we should pretend that she is the most sensible of the human being in the world. I certainly do not endorse the way the barista made her feel. But, the fundamental question is how far it is righteous to make money at the other’s stupidity and gullibility? Isn’t it this very mentality the crux of all that which is flippant and superfluous? 

  3. I completely disagree with the premise — unless you can truly say the barista was snotty in her response, there’s nothing wrong with politely correcting the customer so she doesn’t continue to mispronounce latte everywhere she goes. and further embarrass herself. I agree there may be a few instances where correcting the customer may not be the right thing to do, in most cases, one is merely being helpful by doing so as long as it’s done in a way that doesn’t embarrass or bring unwarranted attention to the customer.

    • We will have to agree to disagree, then. Unless the customer asks for help with pronouncing a word, I don’t think it is polite nor in the best interest of the business to correct her. Any employee of mine who engaged in the practice of “helping” people by demonstrating their own superiority (real or imagined) would be invited to cease that behavior or to find another job,

    • We will have to agree to disagree, then. Unless the customer asks for help with pronouncing a word, I don’t think it is polite nor in the best interest of the business to correct her. Any employee of mine who engaged in the practice of “helping” people by demonstrating their own superiority (real or imagined) would be invited to cease that behavior or to find another job,

    • Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. It’s better not to correct someone if there’s no harm in the person’s mistake. I used to have a hard time not doing that, which was a matter of arrogance on my part.

  4. Better, I think, to educate the customer rather than correct her. If the barista had simply said something like “Would you rather have a regular or decaf lah-tay (no emphasis)?” it might have helped the customer learn by “catching on” – and in the process sense she was entering into the “in crowd”…

    -Don

  5. I must admit my own impatience with certain things & can’t say that I would have necessarily done better.  You make a solid point though, Ray.  Making someone feel stupid does nothing for the growth of a business. 

    The point is not to “encourage stupidity” but to encourage “growth” by allowing that person a good feeling about coming back.

    This is the whole point of marketing, isn’t it?  Give someone a good feeling about your product or service so they will come to you.  If they come to you the first time, and that feeling is affirmed, this will encourage the behavior of repeat sales.  It’s good to keep a paying customer.

    Where I live, in the greater Toronto area, there is a wide diversity of people groups.  English is spoken with varying accents.  One particular coffee shop does very well, and I think it may be because they handle people with the kind of courtesy you mention.  I’m sure that this business owner cares very little about how someone pronounces his coffee, as long as he keeps coming back.

    Not only is this good business, it’s good humanity.

  6. The tone of voice is pretty important here, I could have a pretty similar conversation with a customer, but my intention would be to clarify what they wanted rather than to correct them – but if you don’t ave the right tone of voice it wont be taken that way.