A Well-Intentioned Burger

This is a story of how to provide bad service despite your best intentions. It is, therefore, an allegory about how lose the support of your Kickstarter backers, even though you don't think you've done anything wrong.

This a true story.

I was at work. I don't recall precisely what day is was, only that it was somewhere in the afternoon, and I was ready for lunch. Seeing as I work in Washington, D.C., there are plenty of great places to eat. The food trucks just down the street are often nice. But that day I felt like a good walk, and wanted to have a good long lunch break. So I decided to grab a burger from Bobby's Burger Palace.

It was fairly packed. Of course it was; it was the lunch rush. But the line moved fast. I got my order in, took my number, and found a spot to sit. All is well so far.

BBP isn't exactly fast food, but it's not a fancy place either. There are no waiters in the traditional sense, but somebody does bring out your food for you. It takes somewhere around 10 minutes after you place the order, typically.

I'm not exactly sure how much time passed. It felt like 30 minutes or more. Other customers came and went, and I was still there, still waiting. Things happen sometimes, so I don't hold this against them too much. Nevertheless, it was Problem 1 in what was to become a list of problems.

Eventually, one of the staff noticed I had been sitting around a while. He asked what I had ordered. A blue cheese burger (medium doneness), fries, and unsweetened iced tea. It turns out that at no point had anybody even begun preparing my order. That was Problem 2. The guy made it a priority to get my order done right away. Cool. That's a good solution.

A moment later, out comes my drink. The iced tea was sweetened (Problem 3), but I had already spent most of my lunch hour waiting for food, so I wasn't about to make the iced tea into an issue. I just wanted to eat and leave. Ten more minutes, and the guy is bringing my burger. He lower it nearly to the table, then hesitates. In an instant, my burger is being pulled away again. "Oh, sorry, this burger is medium well, I'll ask the kitchen to make you a new one." The guy is walking away as he's talking. I tried telling him, "no, give me that burger, it's fine." But he was already gone.

This. Problem 4. THIS is the problem to remember above all the others. We'll come back to it in a moment.

He comes back after 10 more minutes with a new burger. Finally! Lunch! Once I finish he comes by to take my plates and things. He says to me, "Sorry the food took so long, let me go get the other burger, it's yours free of charge," or something to that effect. 5 more excruciating minutes, where all I wanted to do was leave, but now I have to wait. Out comes the first burger again, and a to-go box. The burger is not IN the to-go box. That's my job, apparently. Problem 5.

Finally, he asks that I keep this whole experience on the down-low, because he doesn't want the kitchen to get in trouble for not making my food. Very noble, I guess. There should be a word that simultanously means "noble" and "exasperated sigh." Eye-rolling would be appropriate here too. Problem 6.

Luckily, I work at a place where nobody minds if I happen to go over my allotted hour for lunch. But I can't bring myself to want to go to BBP for lunch anymore.

So let's talk about what happened.

This guy had the best intentions. From his perspective, he saw the issue, and addressed it. Being super focused on my order now, when he noticed that the burger was not cooked how I asked, he endeavored to fix it. And then, he made the extra gesture of letting me have that burger anyway. And he didn't want the kitchen to get in trouble, so he took action to prevent that. From his perspective, he did everything he could to fix the problem that he saw; that the kitchen hadn't prepared my meal in a timely manner.

But from my perspective, I was already there longer than anticipated. I wanted to get back to work, so I didn't care about having the best burger as much as I cared about eating and leaving.

This is why problem 4 is really the crux of the story. All the other problems were not that big a deal, objectively. But one big problem -- big specifically because it clashed directly against my priority at the time -- is very effective at magnifying all the smaller problems.

When the guy brought out the medium-well burger, it was a mistake in the order, for sure. But, importantly, he failed to ask me if I wanted to keep that burger despite the error. I had every plan to tell him, but I didn't even see him again until he had the second burger.

It is difficult if not impossible to intuit another person's priorities. All the mistakes in the world would have been fine, if only he had asked me if I wanted to eat that burger or wait for another one.

In a Kickstarter, you can ask your backers what they want in all kinds of ways. You can create a survey and link to it in your next update. If it's a problem a specific backer is having, you can message them with some suggested solutions, and which would they prefer? Do they want you to resend the package, or would they prefer a refund?

What you should not do, however, is whatever you would want if you had that backer's issue, without checking with them first.

Counter to popular advice, DO NOT put yourself in their shoes. DO NOT do unto others as you would have done unto you. Today I give you a new golden rule: Do unto others as they would have done unto them. Don't bend over backwards to please, but if there are a few reasonable options, let them tell you which option they prefer.

So if you ever catch yourself asking, "What the heck is going wrong? I am doing everything I can." That's fine. Things happen. But your next step should be to ask the backers, what do they want?