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Napkins, colds, and insights, oh my!

by | Sep 10, 2015 | The Workplace

What can a runny nose and a trip to the coffee shop tell us about customer experience?

As I sit in my Starbucks fighting a cold and the river that has become my nose, I just had a small, yet telling interchange with one of the employees. As he was filling the napkin dispenser he mentioned how often he had to do that lately, and he couldn’t figure out why. As I listened I began to process what he was saying and linked it to both my current situation and what I had seen from others. I had a stack of Starbucks napkins sitting next to me which I had been plucking one by one in almost a machine-like fashion to combat the war that this cold had inflicted on my poor little nostrils. I had also seen just this morning at least half a dozen more people take similar stacks, some to use while they sit, others to put in their pockets as they take their coffees to go.

I turned to the young barista and said, “It’s cold and flu season. People are using napkins to blow their nose.”

He looked at me, and I could see the light bulb had gone off. “Maybe we should order more napkins for this time of year so we don’t run out like we did last week.”

I nodded and he went on with his work.

Now is this little epiphany going to have some major impact on this or any other Starbucks? Not likely. But what if we were talking about some BBQ joint here in KC, where just looking at your plate requires a bib and a stack of napkins? If they ran out of napkins that could cause a major complaint from the customers, forcing somebody from the restaurant down to the corner store to get some fast. Again, this isn’t likely to create a major long-term problem for the BBQ restaurant. But it would hopefully be something they would learn from and not let happen again.

And that brings me to the point of this little story, actually two points:

1) It is imperative that you take time to just observe what is going on around you. Often small things that nobody thinks about can have meaningful, and yes even sometimes big impacts on your business. This time for observation is something we utilize a great deal for our clients at Instinct.

2) You need to give yourself some quiet time to reflect on what it is you see. We often are in too much of a hurry doing our daily tasks that we miss out on that important “brain time.” If I hadn’t been sitting at the table at Starbucks, reading my morning papers and watching my fellow coffee addicts take those napkins, and have quiet time to process it, then my initial response to the barista would probably have been a glancing, “Uh-huh.”

And that would have been it.

So always take a little time to watch and process what you see, and eventually you too will have your napkin moment. Or a million-dollar idea moment if you’re lucky.

Robert Westfall

Robert is a writer, behavorial researcher and decision-making consultant. He is the founder of Instinct, a firm specializing in helping organizations be more human focused and planet conscious.  You can learn more about his work at www.TheHumanInstinct.com and follow him at twitter.com/WeAreInstinct

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Remember when things just seemed to work? Yeah, neither do we.

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