Why This Coffee Shop's 'Clever' Sign Isn't So Clever At All

Making fun of your customers is bad business.
Why This Coffee Shop's 'Clever' Sign Isn't So Clever At All
Image credit: Roberto Westbrook | Getty Images

A coffee shop in Roanoke, Va., put a "clever" sign outside that said:

"Small coffee" - $5
"Small coffee, please" - $3
"Hello, one small coffee please" - $1.75

The sign went viral. News stations reported on it. Redditors rejoiced. Bloggers and tweeters gushed.

"It might be a small gesture, but is it really that hard to remember your manners and the fact that there are actual people behind the counter?" one writer admonished her readers. "You’ll always be rewarded for good behavior, and now in some places, you might even save a little bit of cash."

An employee wrote the sign because he felt he needed "to solve all the injustices of the world (and) to start charging more for people who didn't take the time to say hello and connect and realize we're all people behind the counter."

Oh, brother.

Related: 35 Tips on How Not to Offend Your International Business Partners

This is not clever. It's stupid. It's insulting. And, regardless of all the viral attention, it's bad for business. Are you one of those foolish businesses that think it's funny to criticize, make fun of, lecture or patronize your customers? Do you hang signs like…

"Don't worry. Our staff is accustomed to dumb questions."

"Notice: Prices subject to change according to customer's attitude."

"The customer is sometimes right."

"Sarcasm is just one more service we offer!"

"Yesterday was the deadline for all complaints"

"Complaints will be heard on the second Tuesday of next week.”

Related: 10 Reasons Why Good Customer Service Is Your Most Important Metric

These signs drive me nuts. Whenever I walk into a small business and see one of these silly things hanging on the wall behind the cash register my first inclination is to walk out. I say “small” business because you would never see this nonsense at a professional organization. Can you imagine management’s reaction at Starbucks or Marriott or Target if one of these signs were hanging there? Big, experienced, customer-focused, service-oriented companies would never put up with this bunk. It’s just bad for business. It’s very, very “small” business.

But, hey, go ahead and hang that sign if it makes you feel better. But just be forewarned that if you do then you deserve what you get. Customers don't want to hear this tripe. We have our own problems in our little lives. Every day we're castigated by our bosses, chided by our significant others and treated with disrespect by complete strangers, rude customer service agents and the government. I get yelled at by homeless people just because I'm walking by them. I'm disparaged by my friends just because I’m a fan of the Kardashians and I’m made to feel guilty just because I like a Big Mac once in a while.

So now I have to be treated like an 8-year-old and told to be "polite" just because I want to buy a cup of coffee? You're kidding me.

Sure, I realize serving coffee can sometimes be tough. I bet that sometimes a customer or two can be rude. Hello, welcome to life in human society! I’ll bet that 98 percent of the people that a barista serves every day are polite. So 2 percent are jerks? Deal with it. That's the same percentage of customers who stiff me on bills, vendors who don't deliver on time and employees who don't show up when promised. That's life. Those are your customers -- the ones who pay your bills.

Related: Good, Bad and Just Ugly Customer Service Trends

The stupidest thing any business owner can do is to treat their customers with disrespect. Hanging stupid signs making fun of them is basically saying you hate your customers. "No I don't," you say? That's the perception I'm getting.

By the way -- the owner of the Virginia coffee shop quickly told one news station that the higher pricing was "a joke" and that "no one has paid $5 for a cup of coffee." Ha ha. Is there a Starbucks nearby?

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