The Case for Rut Dwellers

By Lyle Hill

I’ m a little reluctant, maybe even embarrassed, to admit this, but I am a confirmed rut dweller … a true creature of habit. When I find something I like or that works for me, I’m done looking. It’s just the way I am and I’m probably not capable of changing.

So it was that day after day, week after week, my morning routine never varied. I would leave home to head to work but always, with rare exception, made a stop at the fast food establishment on my route. It was, after all, on my way, I didn’t have to leave my car and a hot cup of coffee and warm muffin were the perfect companions for my 40 minute morning commute.

“Good morning,” came the voice from inside the little box with the “order here” sign above it. “Can I take your order?” “Yes, thank you,” I would reply. “I’d like a medium coffee with one cream and a warm blueberry muffin.”

The process was designed to be simple, quick and efficient. But it often was not any of those. In fact, after payment was made at what was called window number one, I would advance to window number two to pick up my order. On most mornings, that is when the fun began.

At a certain point in time, I actually started to keep a scorecard … actually a little spiral bound notebook … of the most common mistakes or problems I encountered while simply trying to get my morning coffee and muffin order processed correctly. The two-month-long study resulted in the following … 3 out of 5 days my order was wrong. The most common mistake was with the coffee. There was either no cream, sugar not requested, or the wrong size coffee. Twice I got orange juice instead of coffee and once I received a Diet Coke. I also had started to notice that the turnover in personnel seemed to be getting worse and that the speed of service had slowed considerably.

The mistakes were always corrected, but not always as fast as I would like. One might ask, “Why didn’t you find another place to go.” That’s a fair question, but rut dwellers don’t make changes easily. I kept going back because the place was on my route, the prices were very reasonable, and I never had to inconvenience myself by getting out of my car. But at a certain point in time, I had reached the point of no return, literally. So I stopped going back.

The closest alternative for my morning coffee and muffin was a small corner convenience store that wasn’t too far out of the way. But to stop there would require me to park my car and go inside. I would also be handed an empty cup requiring me to pour my own coffee and add the cream as well. The transaction also would cost a little more than I had been used to paying. But because I had reached a level of frustration with the more convenient
and cheaper supplier, I made the switch.

Within about a week or so, the morning team at the convenience store knew my name and if they were not involved with other customers, would have my coffee and muffin waiting for me when I walked through their door. Their names were Joe and Sharon and every now and then I would add a bottle of orange juice or a pack of gum to my order. They soon not only greeted me by name but seemed to be happy to see me. I knew they treated
most of their other customers the same way they treated me, but somehow, I felt like they appreciated my business. Th is almost daily routine lasted for more than 14 years … remember I’m an admitted rut dweller … until I moved away from the neighborhood. During that time, I never once thought about the fact that it was costing me more time and money to deal with the new provider, because I was pleased with the better level of service.

I think the lessons here are obvious. People … customers if you will … put up with a less-than-perfect experience in many cases because they have no interest in making a change. The “pain of change” concern often inhibits us from venturing out to find something different or better. There’s also the old “I’d rather deal with the devil I know than the one I don’t know” that comes in to play. We sometimes think a situation is less than ideal but it could even be worse with someone new.

Additionally, I believe consumers are willing to pay a little more if they feel they are getting some additional value for the extra money they may be spending. In fact, certain studies have revealed that consumers will often shy away from the potential vendor who has a price that is “too low.” The suspicion here is that the product that’s priced too low is most likely inferior.

Even in these times, there are customers who like to be treated in a somewhat personal manner. I guess most of us really do like to go where everybody knows our name and they seem to always be glad we came.

Lastly, there were times when Joe or Sharon made a mistake with my order, but because the relationship was always so positive and I had built up a connection with them, it never bothered me. We rut dwellers are a loyal bunch if nothing else.

Lyle R. Hill is president of, an information portal and job generation company for the glass industry. Hill has more than 50 years’ experience in the glass and metal industry and can be reached at

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1 Comment

  1. You are spot on Lyle!

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