Skip navigation
happy-restaurant-cashier.jpg jacoblund / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The Wealthy Franchisee: Why you should ditch the golden rule

Treating customers the way you want to be treated is a terrible idea. Here’s what you should do instead.

“I treat them the way I want to be treated. It’s as simple as practicing the golden rule.”

I was preparing to keynote for a chain of quick-service restaurants and I asked one of their franchisees what he does to provide good customer service. He shared the same belief I’ve heard a thousand times. Imagine you’re them and ask what would make you happy.

This is a terrible approach to customer service. The intention is noble, but it often doesn’t yield the experience your customers are seeking.

You and I are different. We may not share the same desires, preferences, or values. We may not have the same needs. We might be in different moods. If you serve me according to your requirements, you may not meet mine.

I once went to a pizza restaurant to get food for my son’s birthday party. I still had to get the cake and was in a hurry. But the gentleman taking my order fancied himself a comedian and kept cracking jokes. They weren’t funny and I wasn’t in the mood. Instead of serving me, he kept trying to entertain me. It dragged out the transaction. He valued humor and believed ordering pizza should be fun. I valued efficiency and needed to get out of there. He treated me the way he wanted to be treated and created the experience he desired. After several failed attempts to make me laugh he said, “Wow, you’re really serious.”

I came in to buy food and now I’m getting feedback? That certainly didn’t help my mood. Instead of judging me, he should accommodate me. If he observes that I’m “serious,” he should become serious. Make the experience about me.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share others’ feelings. It means shifting your emotions to align with someone else’s. People like that. It builds connection. When you practice the golden rule, however, your behavior is rooted in your feelings. It creates experiences based on your perceptions and standards, not the other person’s.

Restaurants should practice empathy and treat people the way they want to be treated. That requires paying attention. It means focusing and noticing, one customer at a time. Look at their body language. Listen to what they say and to how they say it. Are they playful? Rushed? Are they worried about food quality? Order accuracy? Price? If you look for the emotional need on top of the food need, you’ll pick up on cues that can guide you in providing the best customized experience for that guest.

In an environment built on speed and efficiency, it may be difficult to wrap your brain around personalizing the experience for each customer. Too many restaurants (especially QSRs) think in terms of quick transactions, not memorable experiences. They don’t want to slow the sale.

But personalizing experiences doesn’t take more time; it takes more focus. More presence. It means snapping out of the typical robotic trance we’ve come to expect from most QSR employees. This is absolutely possible and it’s as good for your team as it is for customers. It’ll engage them in their work at a deeper level.

My team members found the process fun. They came to understand their job was not only to assess the specific food customers wanted, but also the experience they wanted, even though customers don’t directly articulate it. Taking an order was like solving a puzzle. That required them to pay more attention, to look for the humanity in each customer. When they saw them as unique human beings and not just as the “next customer in line,” they treated them better. It made their job less monotonous and their service more impactful.

I recently took my teenage daughter to a chicken restaurant and when she placed her order, she asked for confirmation she’d get a biscuit. “My meal comes with a biscuit, right? I’ve been dreaming about it all day!”

“Oh yeah,” she was told by the young woman taking our order. “I love them, too. Aren’t they the best?!” For just the shortest moment, my daughter and the employee shared a connection over the love of the same product. It didn’t slow down the order, but it made it a little nicer, more human.

We stepped aside and I observed the next transaction. “I’d like a No. 5 and a bottle of water,” said a middle-aged man.

“Sounds good,” replied the employee. “How’s your day going?”

“Fine,” he replied curtly. He obviously wasn’t in the mood for chit chat.

The employee noticed and dialed back the affability. “That’ll be $12.45. We’ll get that right out.”

If she was practicing the golden rule, she might have continued her attempts to engage him in friendly banter. But she could tell he didn’t want that, so she quickly shifted her service approach. Her shift wasn’t a major change in personality, but a subtle change in interaction.

Five minutes later, when she called our number and handed us our bag, she returned to being the friendly biscuit-lover with whom my daughter briefly connected. Then she elevated the experience even more. “I threw an extra biscuit in there for you. Enjoy!”

A shortsighted owner would see this as giving away free food. A smart one would look at the free biscuit as incredible marketing, an investment of a few cents that virtually guarantees my daughter will come back, and most likely bring others. My daughter revealed her customer service “tell,” and, picking up on it, the employee knew how to make her a little happier. If she does that consistently, it’ll make the owner a little wealthier.

The golden rule does force us to reflect on the human experience, and that’s better than mindlessly facilitating cold transactions. But you and your employees can do even better. Focus less on how you want to be treated and more on what each customer wants. That’s the rule that wins the gold.

Greenberg_Headshot.jpegAUTHOR BIO

Scott Greenberg is a speaker, writer and business coach and the author of The Wealthy Franchisee: Game-Changing Steps to Becoming a Thriving Franchise Superstar. Find more information at

TAGS: Franchising
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.