Not long ago I heard a story about an hotel in the far east, in which whenever a returning customer walks in, the concierge would greet him/her “Welcome back, it’s so good to see you again!”. Sure, it’s a very nice gesture to think that I actually meant something to this hotel staff and they actually care for me. Does it matter that they used a very simple trick to do that? Essentially taxi driver in that city were informed they’ll be tipped accordingly if they could engage a conversation with the customer during the ride and inquire whether s/he’s a returning customer. If so, the driver will carry the person’s luggage and place it on the left of the main door. This will give the concierge the agreed sign and s/he’ll take it on from there.
The concierge doesn’t really remember the customer. S/he cheats. But from the customer’s point-of-view, it doesn’t matter (well, as long as the farce isn’t revealed of course).
So let’s imagine running a coffee-to-go place, called “The Little Things” that has face-identifying camera (everyone has CCTC already, nothing new in that) and it tag a name to each customer’s face when the person makes its first order. The second time the person will return the barista would greet him with cheerful “Good Morning, Phteven, would you like your usual?”. The system would quickly learn to identify a customer who likes to vary their order whenever they order around lunch, for example, but keep their morning coffee the same every day. The system would also not simply connect any barista, rather then a particular barista – because It’s kinda creepy when a stranger knows your name and your personal preferences. I would like the customer to identify the barista serving him and bond with him/her personally, just as the barista should bond with customer. Baristas should not be faceless.
The official policies of this café is that customers don’t get any special preferences. However, whenever’s possible, and that should be for the vast majority of the times, the barista would secretly provide the customer with an extra treat (for free, of course) – an extra cookie, or additional whipped cream or a coupon for free coffee on his/her next visit. If possible to inform the customer, s/he’ll do so in a whisper-amongst-friends, or just a wink, or with a personal note on the coupon or the receipt. The idea is to give the customer the impression he has a real interpersonal relationship with the barista, if not actually having such relationship.
But what happens when the farce is exposed? When the customer demands a certain benefit that exceeds the a reasonable proportion? Well, plausible deniability is always important- As mentioned above, the official rules are that no benefits should be given, but I’d hate to lie, especially in the face of the customer – but I can easily bend the truth – If employees are being entitled and encouraged to benefit their friends, yet are required not to publicly admit so; and we use technology to help the baristas become friendlier with the general corpus of customers – we can easily have a scenario in which this negligible benefit we’re providing our employees will serve to give almost every a customer a feeling of belonging as the songs goes – “Sometimes you want to go, where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came”. I’d sure love to go such a place.