Nick DeNardis

User experience, code, higher education, analytics and accessibility.

Does the honor system still work?

In the age of free music, movies and book at your internet fingertips is there any room for the honor system? What motivates people to pay for anything if there is a way to get it for free? I have been thinking a lot about service the last few weeks, inspired by a book I am reading, The Ultimate Question (opens new window) by Fred Reichheld. The book makes a distinction between bad and good profits based on the customer experience. Bad profits come from customers who have negative experiences with your business. The book makes the argument that the most important thing for any business to focus on is increasing the likelihood for a customer to recommend it to a friend or family member.

This weekend I was in Biggby Coffee (opens new window), a local (regional) Michigan based coffee shop (side note, I would recommend Biggby to everyone). At the end of the counter I noticed something interesting. A box for "line jumpers" who just need to get their coffee and get on their way. The clear box says:

# "skip the line, help yourself to your favorite brewed coffee"

It states the prices for each size below it and has a slot for money.

I think this is an awesome idea for various reasons. But I also think it makes a bold statement about Biggby itself. They aren't just churning out coffee all day to make the most profit possible but they actually pay attention to their customers needs. I'm not someone who gets a coffee from a shop each morning but I know a lot of people who do. They get the same thing each day and their coffee shop is just doing a simple transaction. There is no need to try and "up sell" them because convenience is the ultimate driver in their decision.

# So does it work?

I asked the barista if it gets used often and she said a few people (regulars) have used it but it wasn't wide spread. The ones that use it typically overpaid by a little, she assumed it was because it was easier to just put in two dollars, or it was a little bit of a tip as a thank you for making the service available. She didn't have any examples of people short changing the system, although they don't keep a close eye on it at all times.

Obviously this reliance on the honor system wouldn't work everywhere and for everyone. But for me, just seeing trust like this gives me hope for the business world and humanity.