Hot or cold milk – it’s important

I’m often amazed at the apparent pettiness of many of the online complaints that move through my social streams, and a recurring experience at a restaurant made me realise they’re often the result of an interesting customer service choice trap. Let me explain.


Our offices have been situated above a restaurant for just over four years now and, being a creature of habit, I’ve eaten breakfast there at least three a week. Each time I order tea and each time the waiter will ask whether I want hot or cold milk. My answer is always, “cold, please”.


At this point in the story you need to know two things:

  1. They bring hot milk at least half the time
  2. I don’t really care about the milk


Without getting into the differences between hot and cold milk, it really doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that they offer me a choice and then regularly get it wrong. By giving me the choice, they converted something I didn’t care about into something I do care about. The moment I choose the expectation is set.


The milk mistake happens because the waiters are trained to offer the customer a choice and the baristas aren’t trained to deliver on that choice – customer service versus product delivery. But this isn’t about the milk. It’s about businesses thinking that it’s a good idea to give customers lots of choice.


Choice is an interesting beast and it’s far from clear when customers benefit by being offered a choice. Most businesses aim to give their customers as much choice as possible, thinking that it’s great customer service. But each choice creates an expectation that needs to be met, and expectations are more dangerous than a big box of bears.


Offering a choice seems great but if your business isn’t perfectly set up to deliver on the choices you’ve offered your best intentions can end up as your worst social media nightmares. We think these social media complaints are petty but they’re a catalogue of broken promises.


Sometimes choice helps your customer make smarter decisions, sometimes it causes decision paralysis, and sometimes it creates an unnecessary expectation and risk. Take the time to evaluate the choices your business offers – chances are you can remove many of them (or at least make many default) and thereby remove the risk of poor delivery.


What you think is good customer service is often the exact source of much customer disappointment.


As for the milk, just make the default cold.