Think Outside The Cup and Saucer

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There were four of us at dinner. Three ordered "regular" coffee, the fourth requested "decaf." Every so often a server, carrying two pitchers, refilled the coffee cups and knowingly poured three cups from one pitcher and one from the other. He never asked who wanted which type of coffee.

As we were leaving, one of us asked the server how he knew which of us preferred "decaf." "Simple, the three of you drinking "regular" coffee have black cups with white saucers, we serve "decaf" in white cups with black saucers." Instead of thinking outside the box these people have been thinking outside the cup and saucer.

What an elegant, easy solution. The server doesn't have to interrupt conversation to find who is having which coffee, there is no mix-up or confusion, and everyone gets what they want. More importantly, it demonstrates how deeply the "customer satisfaction" thought process has gone in that particular establishment and it is a lesson for everyone who manages a business.

Imagine how many opportunities for little confusions that exist in delivering any product or service, from not greeting a customer properly to forgetting to return a credit card, and everything in-between. Management that really wants to deliver a superior customer service experience systematically looks at every possible opportunity for confusion or error and attempts to eliminate them as they are identified. In the case of the cup and saucer solution there was no cost expended to solve the problem, just a little time and creativity.

An owners or managers challenge is to identify a little confusion or opportunity for error in your business that can be overcome by thinking through the process and developing a low cost / no cost solution. Instead of thinking outside the box, let's call it "thinking outside the cup."

Larry Galler coaches and consults with high-performance executives, professionals, and small businesses since 1993. He is the writer of the business column, "Front Lines with Larry Galler" Sign up for his newsletter at

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