You know what grinds my gears? Dusty surfaces in restaurants. It could be the corner of a counter behind the tip jar or under the freezer case — doesn’t really matter. It drives me nuts. Hidden in all of those particles of dust is a tacit understanding that the proprietor has decided he’s too busy, too tired, or too lazy to do anything about it, and besides it’s about the food, right? People don’t want to believe us when we tell them, but very rarely is it just about any one data point, and people make assumptions all the time about your business using data that are seemingly inconsequential. When is dust more than dust? When people say to their friend, “The food’s good, but the place is a little dirty.”

If you’re the business owner, you’re infuriated with the notion that a little dust under the fridge equals “a little dirty.” It’s dust! The sad truth is that it doesn’t matter: people are irrational and your unforced error caused their irrationality to come out. You can be mad, but effective brand management, whether it’s done by you the owner or by a firm like ours, starts with the acknowledgement that irrationality exists (rather than raging against it) and that unforced errors (like dust) are the low-hanging fruit that get dealt with first (in this case, with a nightly walk around with a cleaning sponge and some cleaner and an end-of-week all-hands-on-deck ten minute cleaning party). No dust, no irrational response. Win-win.

Since I’m in the middle of a move, and since our restaurant clients have taken enough abuse in this post, let’s switch gears and pick on another favorite punching bag of mine: contractors. Here’s our two minute brainstorm of all of the unforced errors the [wp] folk have experienced at the hands of contractors.

  • Not calling back promptly.
  • Pricing by how the wind’s blowing rather than splitting the estimate into materials, hourly rate, and the approximate time involved.
  • Not abiding by the Scout mantra of “Leaving it better than you found it.”
  • Missing time windows.
  • Loud music playing while working.
  • Hazy start and end dates.
  • No clear cut-schedule of when you are and aren’t working.

Notice anything disconcerting about that list? Not one item on the list concerns how good of a job the contractor did. And therein lies the key: I’m not really qualified to determine whether you did a fair, good, or great job on the work. What I am qualified to determine is how well you did at acting like a respectful human being while doing the work. If given the choice between something I know little about and something I know a lot about, which do you think I’ll use to determine your efficacy?

Embrace Irrationality

The great part about this process is that it’s so freeing (isn’t your time better spent fixing vs. being annoyed?), and it’s applicable for every business. Plumber, accountant, headmaster, shopkeeper — everyone can take a ten minute walk and think, “What would drive me nuts about my business if I were a customer?” For us, it’s pricing. We’re trying to do a better job of conveying what we bring vs. what a fresh-out-of-college freelancer brings because the price difference breeds confusion and irritation. For you, it might be something else, but we can guarantee you this: there’s dust out there, and you’d best grab a sponge.

Got any low hanging fruit you want to discuss? Any unforced errors drive you nuts? Tell us on twitter: @whitepenny