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A measure of good-will

Gena Tuffery

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Treat-'em-mean only goes so far

I moved not long ago. And I remembered doing so involves more than gaining a new abode and a fresh postcode—there are new internet, phone, flat white and house red providers to procure too. So, after years of proffering the same Eftpos card to the same barista every day with a sleepwalking, sunglassed grunt, it was time to make some conscious decisions about who to put on my new life payroll.

Auditions were held in order of priority: someone to provide the beverages to start the day, someone to provide those to end it … and then I’d think about getting the phone and internet on to get stuff done in between.

Laziness gave the cafe under my apartment a headstart in becoming The Official Flat White Provider— and a creamy coffee and a $4 fruit salad in a big takeaway container sealed the mental deal. “You’ll be seeing me every morning from now on,” I told the smiling owner.

But on the first morning of Every, the proprietor arbitrarily alerted the barista: “Fruit salad’s $7 now” and “Don’t use the big container, fruit is expensive.”

“Actually I’ll just take the coffee,” I said, handing over my card.

“It’s a $15 minimum spend for Eftpos,” said Mr Mean.

“Fine,” I replied, heading out to get the required change from a faraway ATM—and to find a more grateful recipient of my business along the way. Flat out flat white fail.

A few hours later I walked into the bar next door to The Cafe I Will Never Set Foot in Again. First impressions were good: big window seats, friendly staff and beautiful wine served in … The Stinge Glass. The one with the horizontal line that says: “Don’t give the ungrateful bastard one millimetre more than they’ve paid for.” Sometimes the stinge line is disguised as the name of the bar, but it fools no one. Yes, prudent proprietors, you’re saving a splash of wine, but what of the outgoing tides of offended business that will never wash up on your bar mats again?

While the treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen philosophy works unfortunately well in personal relationships, it would seem obvious that it has the opposite effect in business ones. Yet so many companies adopt this attitude anyway, not correlating their pursuit of a couple of extra dollars with the loss of hundreds in loyalty loot.

Sometimes the practice is even more insane— sacrificing thousands of longterm dollars for a few cents upfront. I was with my last internet company for years and would have probably re-signed for many more had they not sent me a Final Bill After the Final Bill for 16 cents. Unsure whether you can even make a credit card payment of that minor-tude, I ignored it, then got a red “OVERDUE: Please pay 16 cents immediately to avoid further action” bill. I paid them their 16 pennies and took the projected $16,000 I would’ve eventually given them elsewhere.

It’s now six weeks since Moving Day, and every morning I walk past the barista downstairs desperately scrawling another special on the blackboard outside his cafe. I smile, wave and feel sorry that he may soon be out of a job because his boss is so financially myopic. Then I go and buy one of the “$2.50 flat whites before 10am” at the cafe down the road with my Eftpos card and forget all about it

Gena Tuffery is a writer and advocate of voting with your wallet or, if that fails, with your finger (you know, to tap out a letter – or column – of complaint)