Why is that sign so angry?

I went into a small convenience store last weekend to buy a sandwich and was confronted with this sign hanging above their self-serve coffee station.

I felt chastised and I wasn’t even buying coffee! 

Wendi Brick, author of The Science of Service, summed it up nicely:

This sign says to me "I'm sick of my darn customers taking advantage of me, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"  If I saw this sign, I'd never go back.

Still, people do take advantage of companies.  Perhaps the store decided to hang the sign after one-too-many customers abused the self-serve concept.  It can't be fun to face a hoard of agitated caffeine zombies whenever those carafes run out of coffee because some freeloader decided to overindulge. The store has to do something, right?

My new friend at Write the Company, a hilarious website that contains a “candid collection of crazy correspondence” with companies' customer service departments, hit the nail on the head with this observation:

Whoever wrote this should take a sign anger management class and stick strictly to decaf.  If this is how they talk to customers, I wouldn't be surprised if they displayed another sign soon that says "Under New Management."

The problem wasn’t the need for a sign, it was that the sign seemed so angry!

So, what’s the solution?  Patrick Maguire, author of the terrific blog "I’m your server, not your servant,” suggested that companies like this strive for a “Yes” culture that focuses on what customers can do. In those rare cases where a "No" message is warranted, companies should try to lighten it up with a bit of humor. 

He was kind enough to send me this terrific example:

Photo courtesy of Patrick Maguire

As Maguire suggests, a little humor can make the sign seem more agreeable. Brick had another great suggestion - try to positively influence customer behavior by offering a promotion. For example, the store could offer a discount on refills that might even encourage more sales.

If your business has signs to educate, inform, or direct your customers, make sure they aren't angry signs. (Please.)