Opinion: Custom service

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It is terrific to get exactly what we want, exactly when we want it. Beginning in 1974, the fast-food giant Burger King capitalized on what it considered to be a weakness of its competitors – inflexibility. In what turned out to be one of the company’s, if not the nation’s, most successful campaigns, Burger King promised that its customers didn’t have to conform to the taste of someone else.

“Hold the pickles,” the smiling employee said.  “Hold the lettuce,” another enthusiastically offered.  “Special orders don’t upset us,” they promised in unison. “All we ask is that you let us serve it your way!” The company offered custom for the same price as off-the-rack. It worked as consumers loved the flexibility.

Times, as they seem to do, have changed. Burger King struggles to find the right advertising strategy – most recently promoting no preservatives with time-lapse images of rotting burgers. It’s unclear as to how this sells Whoppers. Regardless, others have discovered that customers like custom. And in a world powered by computers, complex algorithms tailoring each element of nearly anything — from travel to tacos — is now simple enough. But more important, we have come to know that à la carte can be highly à la profitable.

Airlines earned $75.6 billion in fees for checked luggage, early boarding, peanuts and assigned seats. Not wanting to fall behind, hotels and others in the so-called hospitality industry are boarding the gravy train. We can expect charges for use of advertised amenities like pools, beach access and utilities (television/internet). With assurances that our individual costs will go down, most accept the pay-as-you go methodology. But is making less money the objective of the business? And is reduced service in the best interest of the consumer? How many “paying” pool users are required to justify having it?   


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