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Customer Management Surprises: Paying For Less Food?, You’re Wrong About Auto Dealers

Brian Cantor

Call it "stretching the dollar." Call it "doing more with less." No matter how you frame it, the never-ending supply of clichês refers to one simple concept: savvy businesses and customers look for ways to maximize the value they receive from each dollar spent on goods and services.

That reality makes a new study on food consumption habits particularly intriguing. We might live in a world overrun with obesity and poor dietary decisions, but as it turns out, when customers are empowered to easily act against gluttonous impulses, some are so willing to do so that they can ignore their usual business-savvy.

An experiment executed at a Duke University Chinese restaurantrevealed that when given the opportunity to cut calories from their meals, between 14 and 33% of customers would do so even if no discount were provided.

The study particularly centered on accompanying sides (rice and noodles in this case); upon ordering, customers were asked if they would prefer their side dish portion be halved in order to reduce the calorie count by 200. The aforementioned percentage of customers agreed to the reduction without asking for anything in return or compensating by ordering more food.

Researchers specifically noted that offering a 25-cent discount had no impact on willingness to accept the reduced portion. Adding calorie labels and allowing the customers to personally do the calculations was similarly a non-factor.

Though surprising in theory (who would pay the same amount of money for less food?), the scenario takes advantage of the "great calorie swindle" commonly executed in this era of health-consciousness. Mainstream American commonly sees calorie count in a golf sense—the higher it is, the worse it is—forgetting that the quality of the calories matters greatly.

While cutting back the calories on a fried, fatty onion blossom is probably for the best, when it comes to lean items like tuna and chicken breasts, a low calorie count simply means "less food" and thus "less valuable protein."

Yet many restaurants now promote "Under ___ Calorie Menus" that should really be called "Skimpy Portion Menus."

That noted, the aforementioned Duke experiment reveals that smaller portions are not noticeably bad for many contemporary eaters. Restaurant customers, it turns out, greatly predicate their intake on how much food is placed in front of them. Those who opted for the smaller side portion, on average, threw away the same proportion of food as those who had the full portion, indicative of the phenomenon.

And similar studies have shown, for instance, that children eat more when their meal is served in an adult-sized bowl.

The lesson here is that some customers are so bought into the idea of "health" as a commodity that they will pay a higher-unit cost in order to feel like they are being kinder to their waistbands.

Often reduced to a caricature, the auto dealership is not known as a beacon of customer service. Stereotypes have long portrayed the modern car dealership as a dishonest institution predicated on finding the best way to bilk customers out of their hard-earned money.

If one ever needed motivation to disassociate the word "stereotype" from "fact," a new customer experience study provides the necessary push.

Maritz Research’s new CE Benchmarks study, which bases its findings on 25,000 quarterly customer ratings, finds that "automotive sales and service" outranks many other customer-facing industries for satisfaction with the customer experience.

Measuring response to the experience buying or leasing a car from a new auto dealership (within the last six months) and the experience in getting a car serviced at a new car dealership (within the last three months), the study found that 74.7% placed the auto sales and service industry in the top three of the eleven measured industries. 34.2% named it the single best industry for a customer experience, ranking it behind only "Insurance Claims Contacts" and "Banks and Credit Cards."

Industries it beat on that measurement include "Hotels," "Investments," "Restaurants," "Shipping," "Retail," "Mortgage," "Wireless" and "Internet and Telephone Service."

While it seems the individual customer experience is generally strong at auto dealerships, it is worth stressing how the nature of the interactions can create skepticism towards service. After all, a new car purchase involves the transfer of tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for a product that is expected to last for as much as a decade.

Given that significance, "pretty good" or "above average" customer service is often not going to cut it; a single bad auto purchasing experience carries far more impact than a dispute with a cable company over a monthly bill.

As such, TheRideBlog notes, "This accomplishment should not lead the industry to slacken its resolve to keep customers happy since they are demanding more and more from manufacturers and dealers. These expectations must be met. Those who fall behind in the retail experience do so at their peril."