Broken Windows, Broken Business

There is a popular business book called Broken Windows, Broken Business by author, Michael Levine. It is based on a premise used in social science that if a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, there will be a perception that there is greater crime in that neighborhood or city. 

In other words, an insignificant problem signals the potential for bigger problems.  

Applied to business, small insignificant problems in customer service, employee attitudes, brand, or quality can significantly impact the perception of customers, erode trust, and impact sales. 

For example:

Problem: Worn out, dirty carpets in the dentist office. 
Perception: This is the standard of cleanliness they use for everything, including instruments.

Problem: Chipping paint on walls and counters of a deli shop. 
Perception: There’s probably paint chips in my food. 

Problem: The ice cream machine is broken. 
Perception: They don’t keep their promises or little perks, it’s no fun coming here anymore. 

Problem: There is a layer of dust on office furniture, and unemptied trash cans. 
Perception: What is this, the Bates Motel? What other horrors are hiding behind the curtain?

Problem: Client-facing receptionist has clutter, stupid gadgets, and food in their work area.
Perception: This is not a professional business. 

Here is a real life example that might gross you out a little…

Yesterday I purchased a ready-made salad from Costco. When I opened it, I discovered a one-inch long, dead centipede among the leaves. 

Costco Bug

I carefully put it all back in the container, with the dead bug on top and returned it. 

I won’t get into the many other fails with this salad (and the other food we purchased). What I did do is compile a mental list of all the broken windows of this once great company:

  • They recently changed their credit card reward program from giving you cash back to giving you a Costco gift card.  

  • I'm tired of waiting in line again to leave the store so someone can glance at my receipt and draw a line on it. Useless and a waste of my time. 

  • I stopped using their bakery deparment years ago when they took away options to customize their custom cakes. 

  • I did some quick math: I’m paying $150/year membership to save $10/year on paper towels and toilet paper and $100/year on gas. 

  • They don’t wash the produce in their prepared foods. They don’t inspect the food.

  • They are reducing quality and value more and more on their services and products across the board.

  • That means I should probably not purchase the $7000 worth of new kitchen appliances I was looking at for our new home.

  • I should also forget about that vacation package I was considering getting through them for next summer.  

  • My brother used to always say how BJs was better.

  • I mention to the hubs that we should cancel our Costco membership. The hubs agreed. 

Moral of the story: 

  1. Perception is stronger than reality.

  2. Small details add up to big impacts

  3. Don’t buy prepared food at Costco. 

Our book, Five Ways Your Design Can Be More Seductive, demonstrates the power of perception. It also describes:

- how little things like putting a green leaf in your logo can make a big impact 

- why ugly designs work so well. 

- how to copy popular brands ethically

- and more.

You can request a free download here


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