Business 1.0 January/February 2023

January 31st, 2023 by Nathan Hobbs

The Case for Rut Dwellers

By Lyle R. 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 how I am, and I’m probably incapable of changing.

The Breakfast Cycle

So, day after day and week after week, my morning routine never varied. I would leave home to head to work and always, with rare exceptions, make a stop at the fast food establishment on my route. It was, after all, not out of my way. I didn’t have to leave my car, and a hot cup of coffee and a 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 replied. “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. After payment was made at window number one, I would advance to window number two to pick up my order. And most mornings, that is when the fun began.

At a certain point in time, I kept a scorecard—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: Three out of five days, my order was wrong.

The most common mistake was with the coffee—either no cream, sugar that had not been requested or the wrong coffee size. Twice I got orange juice instead of coffee, and once I received a Diet Coke. I also noticed that the personnel turnover 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. Why didn’t I find another place to go? That’s a fair question, but rut dwellers do not make changes easily. I kept returning because the place was on my route, the prices were reasonable, and I never had to inconvenience myself by getting out of my car. At a certain point in time, though, I reached the point of no return, and stopped going back.

The Closest Alternative

The closest alternative for my morning coffee and muffin was a small corner convenience store which was not too much out of the way. 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 would also 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 grapefruit 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 always felt like they appreciated my business. This almost-daily routine lasted for more than 14 years 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.

Lessons Learned

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 is also the old, “I’d rather deal with the devil I know than the one I don’t know,” that comes into play as well. We sometimes think a situation is less than ideal, but it could be even worse with someone new.

Even in these times, some customers like to be treated in a somewhat personal manner. I guess most of us like to go where everybody knows our name.

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.

Humor columnist Lyle R. Hill is the former owner of a window film company in the Midwest. He also serves as president of®, an information portal and job generation company. Hill has more than 50 years of experience in film and glass-related industries and can be reached at

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