Guilt is Not Good

I am sure many of you have been presented with a tablet or laptop screen after being in a restaurant or using Uber or Lyft with the suggestion of a seemingly outrageous tip.  An article in the Wall Street Journal is included here that comments on that.  After reading this excellent article completely, I have some very serious questions for you about how you approach customer behavior:

Are Those Screens That ‘Suggest’ 30% Tips Too Pushy? Tablet-based checkouts in coffee shops make it easy to add a gratuity, but many people feel manipulated into giving too much. JUST A SUGGESTION Some coffee house digital registers propose gratuity levels up to 30%.

By Jesse Will 



WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE  —you pick up something as simple as a $3 energy bar or a $5 latte at the counter of your local coffee shop. At checkout, the clerk, someone you see all the time, spins the point-of-sale tablet around to display your tipping options, ranging from a buck to two or even three. You feel bad denying a friendly face but did the clerk’s efforts really rise to a level that merits a gratuity, let alone one of 60% or even 100%?

If you feel put out by the nerve of these machines, join the crowd. The proliferation of point-of-sale tablets from companies like Square and Clover has made coffee shop and other small business checkouts easy, but it’s also introduced awkward scenarios like the above.

“The main concern is when these devices wind up nudging people toward a level of tip that they wouldn’t otherwise be comfortable with,” said Lior J. Strahilevitz, a University of Chicago Law Professor who has written about these “dark patterns” in user interface design. When the most generous tipping option says 18%—standard by most modern rules of etiquette—that’s one thing. But when the options rise to 30% or higher, you might feel guilted into overtipping, especially if the “service” you’re acknowledging amounted to pressing a few buttons and asking robotically if you want a bag.

Then there’s the pressure factor: When the clerk is waiting, and you feel the eyes of the customer behind you on the back of your head, you might hastily punch in your gratuity without thinking about it. “What really worries me about these digital interfaces,” said Mr. Strahilevitz, “is that in some instances, consumers might just be bad at math, and they may not realize that they left as large of a tip as they did.”


TIPPING IS ABOUT showing appreciation for someone who spends a little extra time or thought considering your needs, but it can also help build relationships with the staff at places you frequent. (Being greeted with a nod as someone starts your drink before you arrive at the counter can be a nice daily perk). And since digital tipping screens make it quicker and easier to tip the exact amount you want, what’s to hate about them?

These touch screen devices actually give you more, not less, control in the matter (“no tip” and “custom tip” are typically options), and can be quicker than tabulating a gratuity in your head and scrawling it out on a paper receipt or scrounging through your pockets to find the amount of change you want. According to etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, any friction we feel when confronted with a tablet is self-imposed: The person behind the counter didn’t design that point-of-sale app, after all, and isn’t likely to be offended or notice if you skip the tip on simple purchases.

“We need to have the wherewithal to know that tips aren’t obligatory, even when there are several options on a screen,” said Ms. Gottsman. You have the power and “can always hit the box that says ‘no tip.’” Consider whether staff are hourly employees (as in most coffee shops) or working largely for gratuities (restaurant servers). And if you don’t like the auto-generated tipping percentages—you should feel confident in tapping the convenient “custom tip” option and typing in a figure you feel comfortable with.

“You need to approach tipping with confidence—take two seconds to consider it, and then boom, you’re gone,” said Ms. Gottsman. “It’s like taking a shot.”

OK, now back to my point about behavior.  I have always been more than a little concerned about behavioral energy savings programs that use “guilt” by comparing you to your neighbor.  They basically can only use this for customers who use more than their neighbors … the assumption is that the net result of a percent or two of energy savings was good even though it uses guilt as the motivator.  Any of those who do check with customers about how they feel when these messages are received will see the same resentments most of us would have.  Plus, there is nothing helpful about what to do about these higher bills in most cases that is personalized.

We on the other hand compare customers to what they really can do.  The result is that all customer groups (high and low energy use, efficient and inefficient customers) can benefit from the analysis as well as the personalized suggestions about how to improve.  Sure, many do very little or nothing, but few find this kind of messaging distasteful.

Go ahead and check this out for yourself … yes … you need to check this out for yourself.  You say customer satisfaction matters … check it out.

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