Toast (or how to please your customers by making them do more)

toaster with toast

A few years ago, on a sunny Winter’s morning, I walked into the breakfast room of a B&B. At first it seemed like any other British countryside establishment, but then I noticed the toasters. Toasters, you ask? Toasters. Every table in the little dining room had its own toaster with a loaf of bread sat next to it. There was a slightly worrying extension lead configuration to host the eight or ten toasters. But after the initial confusion (and a passing thought to health and safety fire hazards) Pete and I started toasting.

Now you might be thinking that this was pretty lousy hospitality. If you’re on holiday and paying for breakfast, shouldn’t someone bring you toast and look after you? Why should you do it yourself? Although on casting furtive glances around the room and seeing other couples happily making their own toast, we shrugged our shoulders and joined in.

There are a few reasons why this highly unusually DIY toast situation was awesome. Firstly, you could butter the toast as soon as it was done and eat it while it was still hot – none of the trying to spread cold butter on cooling toast that’s been sat in the kitchen for minutes before you get it. Secondly, it was bespoke. If you liked your bread lightly toasted and just golden, you could have it. If you prefer a darker bronze, then you could do that too. You could also control the supply, if you were hungry, you could have as many slices as you wanted, without having to ask for more. If you didn’t want much, then there wasn’t wasted food. It seemed the perfect set-up.

I’m not sure if the reasons behind the toasters were to give customers exactly what they wanted, or if it was to free up time in the kitchen by not serving toast every few minutes. The proprietor seemed pretty savvy, so I’d like to think it was both. We thought it seemed like a good idea and it was actually quite fun so we enjoyed our breakfast but eventually forgot all about the unusual toast situation.

The other day, I was staring down the top of our toaster at home waiting for it to pop when I remembered the dining room full of toasters. It got me thinking, the customers were doing the labour that they were paying for, but they were happy. A quick check for the B&B on Trip Advisor shows 22 five star reviews all mentioning the table-top toasters. It seems that the pay-off for putting in a minimal amount of effort resulted in receiving an efficient and tailored service. Where else might we be able to implement this approach?

With the toast situation, only a small part of the process was given to the customers. They still received a full breakfast from the kitchen (and were not expected to do the washing up) but they had control over the extras. So I’m not suggesting that customers are made to do all of the work that they are paying for, but there seems to be an opportunity to let them get involved and take on some actions that result in benefits for the customer and suppliers.

Are there any parts of your online service that you could hand over to your customers? Are there any processes that take up your time that would be easy for your customers to do themselves? What could you achieve with the extra time you’d save? Would your customers actually be happier to do some work themselves if they see a real benefit? Food for thought.

Helen Clark

Helen is a digital designer with a background in web and print, now focusing on customer experience design. Follow Helen on Twitter @LittleHelli