Last night, my wife and I met some friends in our favorite neighborhood pub. We go there because we like the atmosphere, the patrons, the owners, and the reasonbly-priced food. But something happened last night that changed the experience...
I ordered some black bean soup, to go with my Frye's Leap India Pale Ale. I enjoyed the soup, so I ordered a second bowl; and I also asked for some bread with the second bowl, which was as good as the first!
When I go out to eat, I'm used to receiving bread with the meal - at no additional charge. Sure, it was only $2.00, but being charged separately for the bread caused me to feel less like an appreciated neighbor, and more like the other end of a faceless commercial transaction.
I realize bread isn't free, and that someone has to pay for it. But how that's managed definitely has an impact on the customer experience. Let's look at the four options that avaialble the owners of the pub; these same options can be applied to "incidentals" in most businesses:
1. Charge the customer for the bread, and itemize it on the bill.
This is what I experienced. Pro: it's pure transparency; nothing is being "hidden" from the customer. Con: it can cause the customer to feel underappreciated; less like a neighbor, and more like a transaction.
2. Charge the customer for the bread, but don't itemize it on the bill.
The owners could have chosen to increase the pricing slightly on each bowl of the soup, to cover the cost of the bread. Pro: The owners stay whole on managing their costs so my favorite pub can stay in business, and I continue to feel like an appreciated neighbor.
3. Dont' charge the customer for the bread, but do itemize it on the bill.
The owners could have added a line to the bill show the bread at a cost of $0.00, or "n/c." Pro: I'd feel appreciated; I've receiving sometihng at no charge. Con: This may appear cheezy; and if done too often, the owners may have to close shop, and I'd have to find another favorite put.
4. Don't charge the customer for the bread, and don't itemize it on the bill.
The owners could have simply served the bread as requested, without charing me in any way. Pro: I'm not left feeling like a faceless transaction, and my positive experience stays in tact. Con: I may not realize that I'm receiving a neighborly "gift" of bread, and hence, my experience doesn't improve.
Here's the point:
For those "to-charge-or-not-to-charge" items, as a business owner, manager or customer-facing employee, you have some options. And the option that you select can have a definite impact on the customer experience. Before deciding if and how to bill your customer for incidentals, look at each option through the eyes of the customer, and do what will best impact the experience. Because everything counts.