In my recent travels, I came across this gas pump:

Seattle 2013

Notice anything unusual? Contrary to the typical layout of gas pumps, in which the lowest price fuel grade is on the left, this pump places its most expensive fuel grade on the left. Inattentive, distracted customers will, out of habit, use the left-most pump and be charged a premium price.

Whose fault is that? After all, an attentive customer would notice the pump order and simply choose the correct grade, as I did (and even took a picture of it). It’s the customer’s fault, isn’t it?

The reality is, it’s shared fault. Absolutely, people in general should pay more attention. But taking advantage of distraction and inattention will lead to some customers being angered by your brand’s “deception”. They’ll feel cheated, that you somehow pulled a fast one on them, and once you’ve broken that perception of trust, it will be enormously difficult to reclaim it. This is doubly true in a commodity industry in which the brand of gasoline you use doesn’t matter particularly, and brand loyalty is nearly non-existent.

The lesson is simple: exchanging trust for short-term gain is an especially bad equation in the era of trust and attention being the scarcest commodities.

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