Getting Your Two Cents’ Worth (Literally)

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Getting Your Two Cents’ Worth (Literally)

Overview of customers and a waitress in restaurant interior

by David Ham | April 26, 2017

I recently met two old friends for lunch at a nice local restaurant. It is not part of a chain, but is owned by a high-profile restaurant operator here in Ann Arbor. The food was good, the conversation was great, and we had a mature waiter who was doing a fine job until the strange ending to our customer experience.

We had three separate checks. Two of us paid by credit card, the other person paid cash. When the waiter brought my friend his change, the waiter nonchalantly announced that they had no pennies so he had to short-change my friend by two cents.

As I said, it was a mature waiter at a nice restaurant and, I would assume, someone who should know better. I momentarily thought he was joking about the two cents and was waiting for him to get to the punch line. No, it was not a joke, just a statement of fact. He simply announced the shortfall, left the change for my friend and the credit card slips for the other two of us, and walked away, allowing each of us to ponder how much he should be tipped.

We found the experience both humorous and perplexing. The issue wasn’t the two cents, of course, but the cavalier attitude of a waiter announcing that he was intentionally short-changing my friend (who, once the surprise wore off, laughed that I would have a great new blog topic).

The incident made me think about the origin of the phrase “getting your two cents’ worth.” Per Wikipedia, the phrase may have derived in England when two pennies were the cost of sending a letter which would allow someone to share their thoughts or opinions. Trips to restaurants typically provide opportunities for us to give our proverbial “two cents’ worth.”

Often, it is a survey invitation that appears on a receipt. Sometimes it is a manager greeting customers to ask directly about their experiences. In this instance, no one asked us about the quality of our experience (other than the waiter checking in at some point to ask if we needed beverage refills). No one associated with the restaurant or its parent company will hear our feedback, but friends, co-workers, and family members will (i.e., potential customers will get the message, but the restaurant never will).

This is why it is critically important to have a culture that solicits, listens to, and takes action on customer experience feedback. Many restaurants, retailers, and other businesses have survey invitations printed on their receipts. In a customer-focused culture, employees make it clear that the invitation is there and that the organization cares about the customer’s feedback.

Such organizations train their employee how to walk the fine line between pushing customers about how they should respond to surveys (e.g., some car dealerships whose cash bonuses or vehicle allocations are tied to survey scores), and encouraging customers through a sincere request and possibly some type of incentive for taking the survey.

In an organization that truly listens and takes action, customers should experience better service over time. In a business where there is frequent contact with customers (e.g., email correspondence, newsletters, etc.), it can be a good practice to tell customers occasionally what is being learned from customer feedback and what type of changes are being made as a result.

That sends a clear message to customers that the business is listening to them and that they should continue to provide feedback when asked. In this particular situation, a good message would be about employee training for customer service skills…if this business had a customer experience feedback and communication mechanism in place.

The bottom line is that the restaurant netted an extra two cents on our lunch visit, the waiter didn’t help his own tip, neither the restaurant nor its parent company knows about the strange service experience because nobody asked us, and future business may have been lost.

Now I am going to look up the origin of the phrase “penny wise and pound foolish.”

For more information from CFI Group on customer satisfaction survey best practices, visit:

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