It’s amazing how telling people why you did something a certain way—or why you need something done—does so much to diffuse resistance and resentment.
My favorite coffee shop switched from paper towel to an air dryer in their rest rooms—not a big deal to the average patron, I know, but I suppose I am not an average patron. I hate air dryers. They take longer. I’ve read they breed more bacteria, so they gross me out. My hands never really feel dry. They take longer. And I hate them. (See what I mean?)
As I waited for my cup of tea, the manager and I were chit-chatting about their technology upgrades and I took the opportunity to casually mention that I didn’t like the Paper Towel-gate 2014.
When he told me why—that their downtown establishment had problems with people using the restrooms to bathe and then clogging the toilets with wads of paper towel which was then leading to needing a plumber on a weekly basis—I could empathize with the sound business decision.
He even went on to say that they don’t mind the bathing component. They weren’t angry with the people causing the problem (as they, too, could empathize with the homeless, or waterless population and were here to welcome all in the community). He added that they made attempts to unclog it themselves and when that didn’t work they considered locking the bathrooms and needing an entrance code (which would be a different kind of inconvenience for patrons).
By the end of our three minute conversation, I was on his side. I would have made the same decision if in his shoes. And ultimately, I was rooting for this coffee shop to succeed. I was now Team Air Dryers.
There are a few takeaways that I learned from Paper Towel-gate:
Keep your patrons in the loop when you make changes—even if said changes seem insignificant. Your best customers may offers insights or other alternatives that weren’t considered. You may find they support you even more.
If possible, confide in them the fact that you considered other options. When he mentioned what else they had contemplated and even attempted, I realized that this really was the lesser of evils. Again, this helped diffuse any frustration or resentment I had because I concurred that the other avenues were even more cumbersome. Your best customers—the ones that are the 20 percent who bring you 80 percent of your business—they want you to win. If this change helps you win better, they will likely support your decisions that lead to your success.
Tell your story, your “why”. In this case their “why” was the fact that they didn’t want to eliminate the option to wash up or punish the people who were washing up in their restrooms—man, I love that about this place—but rather eliminate the costly and hassle-laden occurrence of needing a plumber weekly. You may find your customers like you even more when your “why” aligns with your core values and theirs.
It doesn’t have to be a saga. A three minute conversation was all it took. But it could be a public note. Or a blog or status update on social media. Or an op-ed. But find a way to communicate with your customers (preferably in the way that is relevant to them).
Doing these things helps your customers feel like part of the team; like they aren’t just customers anymore, they are friends, they are family, they are your people. And when we are friends, family, and community, we keep each other in the know.
P.S. These same principles apply if you are a boss making a change.