Managing Customer Expectations: Learning from a Tea Stall

There is a small tea stall near my workplace called Maharashtra Tea Stall. This stall is manned and managed by 25-year-old Ravi who also serves delicious Poha. The days on which I skip breakfast at home, I look forward to having Poha at Ravi’s stall. Ravi only makes 20-25 plates of Poha and starts serving it at 10 am sharp. If you are even 15 or 20 minutes late, you might be disappointed to hear that there is no Poha left for you.

One day I reached a little late only to find the Poha vessel empty. A bit disappointed, I asked Ravi, “Why don’t you cook more Poha? And sell it to more people? You are losing on a big opportunity here.”

And his prompt reply was that people like to have their Poha hot. I don’t want to serve lukewarm Poha to customers who might turn grumpy when they find the Poha is not up to their taste.

There was a small lesson here. Ravi consciously or subconsciously had learned the art of managing customer expectations. He was serving Poha at the right place, at the right time to a customer segment who demanded steamy hot Poha. Ravi had complete control over the quality and availability of those 25 plates. He was averse to create any excess inventory of Poha on which he might have to compromise on the quality parameter.

Ravi could handle disappointed latecomers like me but he did not intend the customers to be disappointed with the very taste of his Poha. The latter would lead to unhappy customers who might never look forward to having Poha at Ravi’s. For the latecomers, the only signal was “why don’t you try next time?”

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