Anyone who has served customers face-to-face can attest to the fact that customers don’t read signs.
Take a look at this example from a deli. The sign above the bin clearly reads Recycle (in two languages!), yet many customers have ignored the sign and used it to throw away their trash.
So, why don’t customers read and follow simple signs like this one?
The root cause of this problem stems from employees and customers viewing the experience through different frames. As I noted in a recent post, customers often see things differently.
Going back to the deli, let’s start by looking at the employees’ perspective. The location of the recycling bin seems like a matter of common sense because their actions reinforce their knowledge of the bin's location:
- They put out the recycling bin so they know where it is.
- They put up the sign.
- They put out the trash bin too (15 feet away, not pictured).
- They empty the recycling bin and have to sort out the trash.
- They direct customers to the recycling bin when asked.
Now, let’s look at the customers’ perspective. It only took a few minutes of observing customers to see what led people to put trash in the recycling bin.
I observed customers stand up, scoop up their trash, and quickly scan the area for a trash bin. The recycling bin was closest to the deli’s tables, so it was the first bin most customers saw.
The bin looked like a trash bin at first glance. It was gray and stood by itself, so customers naturally approached the bin thinking this was where trash goes. This thought was reinforced when they peered inside the bin and saw a mixture of trash and recycling.
Deli customers are in a slight hurry to leave once they finish their lunch. Being in a hurry can narrow our focus and lead to a phenomenon called inattentional blindness that causes normally obvious things to disappear from view. Hurried customers fixated on a solo gray bin filled with trash could easily overlook the recycling sign.
Customers can and will make mistakes like putting trash in the recycling bin. I even devoted the second chapter of Service Failure to the notion that the customer is not always technically correct. However, it’s our job as customer service professionals to make it easier for customers to be right.
Here’s what the deli could do to help their customers recycle:
- Put the recycling bin and trash bin side-by-side so customers see both.
- Use a blue bin for recycling to differentiate it from the trash bin.
- Add the "chasing arrows" universal recycling symbol to the sign.
Customer service employees often find themselves getting annoyed, frustrated, or exasperated with customers who don’t read or follow signs. However, taking a step back to observe customer behavior can often reveal simple solutions that will yield better results.