When “new and improved” can ruin your reputation

Do you have a favorite coffee shop you eat at because everything there works perfectly, where the food, atmosphere and service make it like an old comfy couch you love to curl up on?

I used to. And when new owners took over, it changed.

My chosen spot was in the heart of San Francisco’s North Beach, that tourist hot-spot where the aromas of garlic and coffee drift deliciously through the air at all hours. For years the café was a little hole-in-the-wall, so small that even early on a weekday there would be a line to eat breakfast at the counter. I had been eating there for more than 25 years.

After the owner-chef passed away, the family moved the coffee shop to another, larger space close-by. And his wife, who was now running the business, kept up the same personal, first-name relationship with her customers. My husband and I would beeline there for a hearty breakfast after a swim in the bay and chat with the owner about how business was doing, goings on in the neighborhood, and other niceties.

After a swim one day we went there for breakfast, grabbing our usual spot at the counter. But something felt wrong. The walls and paint were different. The old pictures and photos were missing. The familiar faces behind the counter were gone. And it took five minutes just to get menus.

When we were ready to order the server said a word I hear too often these days in retail establishments: No. No, you can’t substitute. No, you can’t mix items. No, we don’t have brown rice.

Our wonderful little coffee shop had been sold. Not only had it lost its soul, the new owners had no interest in pleasing their regular customers. We quickly ate our food and left, vowing never to return or recommend the place again as we had done countless times over the years.

This problem isn’t exclusive to new owners. It can happen to you if you start taking your long-term clients or customers for granted.

What are you intentionally doing to keep long-term customers coming back again and again? What would you have done differently had you taken over this enduring and popular breakfast hangout?

Roberta Guise enables successful women to become thought leaders. She also works with experts, small business owners and professionals who want to be extraordinarily visible and sharpen their marketing edge. A small business marketing consultant and speaker, she is the founder of San Francisco-based Guise Marketing & PR. If you'd like to know how to apply these concepts to your situation, call for a free 1/2 hour consultation. 415-979-0611. www.guisemarketing.com