Let me tell you a story about controlling people with nuisance charges


This is something I read about a few years ago but never forgot.

It seems there was a day care center that had a problem with parents who picked their kids up late. The center was supposed to close at 6:30, but inevitably someone would get held up in traffic or stuck at work, and so maybe once or twice a week the young woman minding the kids always had to linger behind with one of the kids. Sure, the parents always apologized profusely, but the woman who owned the center wanted to fix things.

So she decided to start charging the parents money for being late.

Immediately, late pickups increased.

What the manager of the center didn’t understand was that the parents liked the day care workers and cared about the inconvenience they caused them. When a parent was late, Angela might miss the start of her night class, or her second job, or even just her dinner. The day care workers looked after their children, after all. There was a bond there.

But the bond was wrecked by putting a charge on it. Suddenly, being late to pick up your kid was not a harm you caused to someone you knew and liked, it was an entry on the balance sheet. Trying to close a big sale? Well, the commission will be 1500 bucks if you finish tonight. Picking up little Timmy 30 minutes late will only cost you ten dollars. That’s totally worth it.

Worse, once the social connection was broken it was difficult to reestablish it. Yeah, they took away the fees, but the late parents just didn’t feel sorry any more. What’s more, this isn’t something that’s happened only to on child care center. This is a pretty common phenomenon that shouldn’t surprise people as much as it does.

Why tell this story? Well, as Scott Lynch points out the latest World Fantasy Convention is trying to reduce no-shows to their Kaffeeklatsche events (essentially, coffee with an author and 19 other fans) by charging five pounds for the event. Sure, it’s also supposed to cover coffee and biscuits, but come on, 100 pounds for a coffee urn and some baked goods? Psh.

A much more powerful incentive to having people show up is to say that, if the number of no-shows is too small, the author will be sitting there at their table with a handful of fans while the other writers may have full tables. You don’t want to make your favorite writer feel bad, do you?

Not that it really matters to me; I’m not a convention person. But there’s no denying that a nuisance charge is likely to have the opposite of the intended effect (unless the money is not about no-shows at all…)

Last night, my Kickstarter blew past the 250% mark. This is wild, you guys. Also, I’m pretty much spending all my time away from the internet sending emails and answering messages. Stretch goals are coming, I promise.