“Feed me!”

“There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.” – Joshua Reynolds

When a baby bird gets hungry, it stares up at its mom expectantly, beak opened wide, and begins chirping incessantly until it has been fed.  The baby is either unable or unwilling to go out and retrieve food for itself.  Why do all the hard work when someone else can do it for you?

When customers are faced with a challenge — a gap in their knowledge, a website that’s not intuitive to navigate, a set up process that’s too complex to get through, etc. — they quickly resort to the state of a baby bird.  Suddenly, they’ve been made to feel inadequate.  They get frustrated and become unwilling / unable to move on.

“Why isn’t this easier?”

“Can’t someone just do this for me?”

“Ah, forget it!”

You have two options when this happens:

  1. Screw ’em. Also known as “The Microsoft Approach.”  You’ve got them locked into your business, right?  They bought your stuff, and you got what you wanted.  If they can’t fill in the gaps, they must just be stupid.
  2. Spoon-feed ’em. Accept that whatever they’re complaining about is probably your fault, and go out of your way to fix the problem.

The duty of your company is to make it painless for your “baby birds” to eat.  More often than not, that requires you to spoon-feed them.  It may take more effort on your part, but it keeps your customers happy.

An interesting example of a company that spoon-feeds their customers is Ted’s Montana Grill.  At any other restaurant, the bill would come at the end of the meal, with the sum total of everyone’s meals, and the entire group would struggle to calculate how much each of them owed.  Cash is exchanged, tip calculators are whipped out, and there’s always that one jerk (me) who only has a credit card.  Figuring out how to split the bill is an ordeal.  At Ted’s, it isn’t.

Click the image to enlarge.

A $75 bill, nicely divided into four sections showing what each person ordered and how much it cost.  You know exactly how much you owe without having to think about it or argue with your friends.  As Larry David said, no one wants to do math after eating a meal.  Ted took that to heart.

It might seem fairly trivial to do something like this.  There’s no impact on the bottom line.  But it’s an unexpected surprise, and it leaves your customers feeling happy.  Spoon-feeding them this kind of information might be a bit harder on you, but it’s better for your company to take on some pain than to pass it on to the people who buy from you.

Never underestimate how much people desire to be spoon-fed.

18 comments on ““Feed me!”

  1. Agree whole-heartedly with this concept. Specifically, I’m surprised how often major content/media providers ignore this principle, especially in the online world.

    When the source of content and information is basically infinite, providers should be spoon-feeding visitors as much as possible. If your content is hard to find, difficult to interact with, or difficult to share, I think many people quickly take the position of: “See you later. I’m never coming back.” If you fail to make user experience as friendly as possible, your audience is likely to turn to someone who hasn’t.

  2. 1) This post is awesomely true.

    2) Last week, I saw a post/article about this really cool payment terminal that takes this idea to the next level. I wish I could find it, but my searches have been in vain. Regardless, imagine a touchscreen terminal that looks kind of like an old SIMON game, where you can choose which items you’re paying for, and even split the bill with multiple credit cards *at the table*.

    You go, Hoehn.

  3. Charlie – I liked the post and the example seems like a no brainier in terms of adding value through spoon feeding but I think it simplifies things a bit.

    Has this practice changed the bottom line?

    How much did it cost to implement (training servers, modifying software on the registers)?

    How much additional time does it cost the server to break down the bill this way? Do other customers service suffer because of this?

    Do people care ENOUGH about the way a bill is broken down to go to a specific restaurant?

    Would the time and money spent by HQ to implement/roll out this plan have been better spent improving other areas of the business?

    I guess what irks me a little is the assumption that good idea = profit but it’s so much more complicated than that in real life.

    I hear younger people especially shoot off ideas like this as if they were the only ones who thought of it, but the reality is when you look at the actual execution and realized profits, sometimes seemingly great ideas aren’t.

    • Actually, servers should be doing this anyway. I used to wait tables – servers often do not bring out the food, and when we dod, it’s hard to remember who ordered what. When orders are input, they’re in order from left hip, around the table, to right hip. If customers don’t inform us until the end that the check is split, we have to go back to the machine & slide things around anyway. This system Ted’s uses is awesome & shouldn’t take any more than maybe 30 seconds extra, if that.

      • @Amanda – Point taken. It wasn’t so much that I thought it would take much longer, it’s that it didn’t seem to be taken into consideration. Lots of ideas seem great on the surface but don’t stand up to scrutiny.

    • Really old skool thinking on your part JBow. Not everything a company does has to have a linear relationship to the bottom line. This is about building a relationship with customers, something that a spreadsheet does not do. It’s this kind of thinking that stifles innovation.

      • @Jay – I’m not saying everything a company does has to have a linear relationship to the bottom line, just A relationship.

        If I started giving free cars to all my customers, my relationships with them would be great…. for the 2 months I could stay in business.

        Innovations are a dime a dozen, innovations that end up actually improving the bottom line are much rarer. This may be one of those, I just think it requires a lot more trial/error/examination to know.

  4. I agree. People like to be spoonfed. I know I do…

    Perhaps the implications of creating something that is value-added isn’t immediately quantifiable. But, it strengthens the foundation of a business model that might overtime far surpass the competition.

  5. Baby bird analogy not quite right as the baby is not being lazy and the mother only feeds it long enough for it to grow and learn how to feed itself.
    Baby birds work really hard to survive. They are not like potential customers at all.
    Customers don’t want to learn anything or to have to learn anything. They want it spoon fed, easy and pleasurable. And they should as they have the money….right?

  6. I agree. I also think it’s much better for long term success.

    However, I think one of the very important points that was missed regarding the Ted’s example is the fact that there is no maintenance required with this system.

    There was likely some low level engineering that had to be done to set up the system, however after that it’s on autopilot.

    I think spoon feeding is great, so long as it can implemented without a high maintenance structure. Creating features like this, also allows your business to grow because the focus can be on implementing new requests rather than hand holding customers.

  7. That seat “trick” is not special to Ted’s or any one chain of restaurant; most restaurant micros use a similar system that can separate seats for you. It’s all a matter your server using it properly.

  8. I wish more restaurants would do this! And as for not adding to their bottom line – I can think of a way it can. By eliminating the need for large parties to figure out who owes what, people will pay their bills faster and the restaurant would get faster turnover on the table. I’ve been in numerous situations where it took a party of 10-15 people about an hour to pay the bill! The restaurant could have definitely made more money by having that table available for another group.

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