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Turning Toasted Bagels Into Opportunities

Sign: We Do Not Toast Bagel(s) Sorry For the Inconvenience
Actual Sign

Have you ever walked into a coffee shop, craving a warm toasted bagel to accompany your morning brew, only to be met with a sign that reads, "WE DO NOT TOAST BAGEL(s) - SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE"?

I have.

As a coffee lover (addict) I stopped in a local coffee shop while in Washington DC. As I’m waiting in line, I notice a sign:





Somebody penciled in the “s” for clarity that it wasn’t just one bagel they don’t toast, it’s all of them.

My mind starts to wander picturing: customers, each with their own preferences, time and time again asking for toasted bagels only to be met with a firm, "Sorry, we don't toast bagels." The frustration mounts, not just for the customers but also for the staff caught in the crossfire, and just like that, a sign was born. Probably by the manager or owner to put an end to this madness.

Again, my mind starts wandering (mind you, I haven’t had any coffee yet). This time, a simple solution emerges: A toaster. A small investment of $10 and a ride to the nearest Walmart. Toast bagels when asked. A minor adjustment, but a significant shift in customer experience.

Of course, I take it a step further. I imagine the conversation changing from "Sorry, we don't toast bagels" to "I'd be HAPPY to toast that bagel for you. Oh, and we have a delicious lox cream cheese that would go great with it for only 50 cents more. Should I go ahead and add it to your order?"

Not only would this approach create happy customers, but it would also open doors to increased revenue and customer loyalty.

How many businesses inadvertently create barriers to customer satisfaction with their own "WE DO NOT..." signs? Whether figurative or literal, these signs can drive customers away.

But here's the silver lining: every "WE DO NOT..." sign presents an opportunity for improvement. By identifying and addressing these barriers, businesses can unlock untapped potential, attract new customers, and retain existing ones. How can you turn toasted bagels into opportunities?


1. Conduct a "Mystery Shopper" Mission: Be your own customer! Visit your website, order online, or call your business as a first-time buyer. Have a friend or family member do the same or have them visit your store as a customer. Identify any pain points, confusing policies, or areas where a simple "no" could turn into a missed opportunity.

2. Unleash the Power of "Why?": When a customer encounters a "no," don't leave it unexplained. Train your team to empathetically ask "why" the customer is asking and actively listen to their needs. You might uncover a hidden desire or opportunity to create a personalized solution.

3. Eliminate the word “No”: Instead of shutting down requests immediately, explore alternatives. Disney has a policy that their cast members (Disney’s term for employees) are never allowed to use the word “no.” Their approach is to offer solutions or explain limitations in a way that shows understanding and a willingness to help.

4. Embrace the "Can-Do" Culture: Empower your team to think creatively and find solutions, not excuses. Celebrate "above and beyond" moments where employees went the extra mile to accommodate a customer, even if it meant bending the rules (within reason).

5. Implement a “Customer Feedback Loop”: Create a system where customers can easily share suggestions and concerns. Analyze this feedback regularly with your team and use it to identify and address potential "no" barriers before they impact your business. Gather your team for a brainstorming session specifically focused on turning "no" policies into "yes" opportunities. Ask: What "no’s” can we eliminate? Can we modify them to create value? How can we communicate limitations in a more customer-friendly way?

BONUS: Need assistance in navigating these challenges? Reach out to me at Together, let's turn your "WE DO NOT..." signs into opportunities for excellence. I’ll even bring the toasted bagels and coffee. 🥯☕️


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