Burnt child syndrome

One of my favorite business books is The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber.

At one point, Gerber recalls a former Professor talking about “burnt child syndrome”.

This is when a child is simultaneously rewarded and punished for the same behavior.

As a result, they have no idea what to expect or how to act.

Gerber’s point was that burnt child syndrome also applies to customers.

If you simultaneously reward and punish a customer for the same behavior—they won’t know how to act.

And if you put the burden on them to decide how to act, it can make dealing with you a stressful experience.

Here’s a case in point:

I used to go to a barber that offered a walk-in service (no appointments). There was only space for three people to sit. Sometimes, I’d walk in and sit down. Other times, I’d have to stand and wait awkwardly by the door.

That was the next problem: when was it my turn?

I had no idea. You see, sometimes it was safe to assume that everybody sitting down was waiting for a haircut. But not always. Sometimes a snotty kid on work experience was sat there observing. Sometimes they were just parents or friends of somebody else.

Then, when I finally got my ass in the seat for a cut, I didn’t know who the barber would be. Why was this a problem? Because one of the barbers was great, and the other one preferred to talk than concentrate on cutting my hair.


I don’t go there anymore. I go to a place where I can book an appointment with a specific barber. I know when I arrive I’ll immediately be directed to the same seat. I know the barber will ask me what I want and actually listen. I know it will take half an hour, all in.

Everything is the same, every time.

Which is why I pay twice as much… and not only do I not care…

I’m delighted to pay for it!

Okay, here’s the point:

If your customers know exactly how to behave, they are:

  • More likely to act…
  • More likely to buy…
  • More likely to enjoy buying from you…
  • More likely to continue to buy from you…
  • And more likely to refer others to you

It’s why my website is designed to show you that the next step—if you want to take it—is to opt-in to my email list.