The best or consistent?

Here’s a business question that I think about, and I wonder if people offering services to the world often have any explicit philosophy about it: is it better to always give a little extra when you can, or to be consistent?

For example, suppose you’re a chef, and during a slow period you could arrange the cilantro garnish in a pretty pattern, but when you’re rushed, you would only have time to scatter it around semi-randomly. (More dramatic examples are possible, but that at least gives the flavor of what I’m talking about. Flavor, ha.) Would you consider it better to always scatter it, so that customers get consistency, or to arrange it when possible, so that some customers sometimes get something a little extra?

My personal philosophy is to tend toward giving a little extra when I can. To me, the benefits (to the customer) of those little surprises, and (to me) of the attention to the little details, outweigh the advantages of consistency. However, I bet a lot of business environments do explicitly quash their people’s desire to do a little bit extra, on the theory that it will confuse the customer about expectations or that it will waste time.

This is probably similar to the division between commodity services and more differentiated ones. Certain businesses keep themselves in the commodity space to save money, and certain ones try to stay differentiated to increase customer satisfaction. It’s good, I think, that there is a mix of those two paths in an economy, or even within a business, but my personal tendency is toward the differentiated path.

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