Coffee makes people lose their minds.
After several weeks of working on the factory line, I was assigned the task of filling orders. That meant for the first time I saw how much people were paying for their gourmet coffee. Surprisingly, the Hawaiian Kona beans fetched the highest price. I say “surprisingly” because one of the perks of working at a coffee roaster is that you get to drink all the coffee — as much as you want — and the Kona was fine, but it wasn’t anyone’s favorite. Customers seemed to prefer it because it was more expensive.
There’s a relationship between price and quality, but as I learned that summer, reason has little to do with it. Customers will pay more — often much more — because they think something is better. Even when it’s easy to prove it isn’t.
Later, when I began fighting for consumers, I saw the same poor decision-making with other products and loyalty programs. Customers didn’t always think before buying — and then turned to me for help. Thanks to Kona coffee, I understood.
LinkedIn has a series called “My First Job,” in which various successful people talk about how their first jobs shaped them into the workers they are today. This one is from Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate who writes for the Washington Post, USA Today, National Geographic Traveler, and other publications. Elliott describes working at his uncle’s small coffee roasting business, and learning about why people bought certain kinds of coffee, and how good customer service is nearly as important as how good a product is (of course, having good customer service isn’t going to save you from having a terrible product).
Photo: Rob Taylor