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Robert TurtledoveNothing like a good cup off coffee in the morning at  H&R Block? OK, that may not be the first place most readers think of for the morning caffeine fix. But as part of its more people-friendly approach to retaining customers, Block is going to provide coffee in its stores for more than years. For anyone who thinks this approach doesn't apply to mid-market reselling businesses, guess again.

In its earnings call this week, Block executives stressed how research showed that prospects don't find they feel welcome when they walk into the chain's stores and they feel like they are being treated like numbers. That's where the decision about coffee is a lot more important than it sounds at first.

Block got rid of free coffee more than 10 years ago, according to Robert Turtledove, who took over this summer as chief marketing officer. He said the move sent a clear message that, "Anything that gets in the way of the efficiency machine has to go, despite what it means for client service." Does this sound familiar? Another complaint has been that fees simply go up every year.

When customers are taken for granted as a dependable cash cow that can be milked harder every year, they know it. They may not be able to make a change, but someday, given that opportunity, they will vote by leaving to someone who not only solves their problems, but makes them feel important.

Block is doing a lot more in its human approach. But replacing coffee is such a striking one because it appeals on several levels, including the odor. Turtledove pointed out that the black liquid is a natural conversation starter and that the aroma helps create a warm environment and puts clients at ease. And I take it he's not talking about pots that have distilled the stuff into 40-weight sludge.

Don't think this applies to business software? The first time I heard a speech by Joe Rotella, chief technology officer for HR specialist Delphia Consulting, he described how visitors to Delphia's office arrive to find a parking spot with their name on it. That's followed by constructive use of a receptionist who finds out what the visitors like to drink.

For those businesses that don't think they have the time for this, I would reply, the outstanding ones do.




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