Have you had enough of Friday yet? Decided to head down to your favorite coffee haunt and order a coffee and “work from home?” If you have join me again for another exciting Friday Morning Coffee Break.
(*Update: My friend TJ at John Galt’s Coffee in Greeley now has latte’s. For a small town it’s a big deal!)
Today though I will forewarn that this is a “Soapbox” post. A soapbox post is formed in the style of a disgruntled tangent. Today I would like to focus and analyze customer service in coffee. But today we will be using the example of the new podcast “Coffee Uncut” to analyze the different approaches to customer service and the lack of understanding about the relationship between people.
I recently started to listen to this new podcast Coffee Uncut courtesy of Sprudge.com. They co-sponsor the podcast. The podcast primarily focuses on analyzing and understanding the professional coffee world from professionals in the industry. And not just any type of professional, the people usually guesting on the show are well respected coffee officials. Owners, workers, and barista’s from all over the nation are included on the show and cover the spectrum of coffee. Everywhere from Intelligentsia to Blue Bottle, to Verve coffee roasters are included. Competition level professional Barista’s are included in the conversation and all talk about coffee. Each week, host Alexandra Littlejohn sits down and basically facilitates a conversation between multiple people and talks to them about coffee and the general trends of the coffee world.
I have always been a big proponent of podcasts. They are free, they can be informative, and also, it is part of a bygone pre-millenial generation thing that makes me feel cooler beyond cool. But that is just my hipster tendencies showing. In all reality, podcasts are great informal conversational tools that allow people to become really candid and honestly discuss issues. I have listened to podcasts on everything from news to cartoons and comics. It is nice because unlike other forms of media, the hosts and guests can be as honest and real as possible, many podcasts I listen to aren’t PR stunts or promotions, they are just conversations between people.
In episode 8: Customer Service, Alexandra talks to Mike Green (Lemonjello’s Coffee, Michigan), Richard Park (Cha’va Cafe, Chicago), and Megan O’Connel (Bipartisan Cafe, PDX) about the central focus of many conversations in the craft industry customer service or more importantly, how do you interact with customers. You can listen to the whole podcast part 1 and 2 on sprudge.com
*Go Ahead, I’ll wait
I think that in the conversation Megan O’Connel really had a great understanding of the customer base which is that customers come in wanting just coffee and that as a coffee person we should be providing that. The other things like engaging the customer, creating a personal relationship, and creating retention rates really provide the extra experience associated with the item intended for purchase.
The conversation and person that really actually started to make my blood boil though was Mike Green’s approach to coffee. I was really impressed with his belief that we are trying to create a whole relationship with someone in 30 seconds and the difficulty that that provides. But I think that the more I listened to his domination of the conversation the more I realized that coffee people are very surfacy and don’t really understand the meaning behind what they are saying.
This was similar to another conversation I had with another coffee worker about how we treat and interact with customers. At the end of the day both of Mike and this person I talked to adhered to the idea that the customer should get a personal experience, but they both still made this experience stem from them needing to identify as the superior person in the conversation or interaction.
Let me try to explain this, as Mike goes on in his discussion of coffee he brings up the fact time and time again that he is not trying to be pretentious or rude, but is totally willing to be stern with a customer and if it comes off as offensive…so be it. You can’t please everybody right? But I think this is wrong. I think that people going into a coffee shop shouldn’t have to feel like they are being put on the spot or that what they order is wrong. Coffee people, as I have previously stated, dedicate assinine amount of time and effort learning the theory and history, and background of coffee to make sure they are knowledgeable about what they are making. They want to be treated like professionals and want to be able to explode and share that information with everyone. But when they feel like they are not being appreciated, they lash out and blame the customers for their inability to relate. Many barista’s and coffee people I know are constantly talking about how the conversation at the coffee shop and what can and can’t be served is constantly tied into the compromising of quality. Mike goes into explicit detail about how at his shop, they are unwilling to compromise on quality and try to make sure that they are explaining this to the customer. But what he fails to mention is that when you tell a customer no, it creates a tension and places both parties into a defensive mode trying to justify that their position is better.
The podcast delves into the dreaded conversation of ESPRESSO OVER ICE! This dreaded coffee drink for the coffee professional creates a strong fear and frustration. What this conversation brought up was that many of the coffee people are really focused on strong customer service in theory. They can say they want to provide a great customer experience, but what they are doing is twisting the ideas to fit their needs to justify their insecurity. time and time again in the podcast, the book “Setting the Table” is referred to in the podcast. Not the book neccessarily but the ideas. In the book resterateur Danny Meyer discusses the importance of hospitality in business and how to create a relationship with your customer base. Many of his ideas are universal for how to treat people. But I think one of the many messages that is lost from this book is that your business, coffeeshop, resturaunt should be what you want, but package and provide something in a meaningful way to the community that you are in. When you are creating a quality product, it is not about giving the people what YOU think they want, but giving them what they KNOW they want but at a much higher level. The relationship that you build with your customer base should dictate how your coffee experience should grow and evolve. Too many times, coffee people get frustrated because what they expect is not fitting the actual reality and so instead of naturally evolving and growing to better understand and provide for the needs of their community, they constantly try to fit what they want to provide into the community. Instead of building on community, it maintains that feeling of pretentious and negative nature in the coffee and service industry.
To go back to the podcast, at the end, the host Alexandra asks everyone to tell about their worst customer service experience. In order to recognize where you have failed to become better is a key tool in creating great hospitality. We have to learn from our mistakes. Mike states that he cannot remember a time that he personally has had bad customer service. He asks his staff to provide an example to present. I think this is utter bollocks. Again, what this shows is that he has justified his actions and has taken the theoretical customer service to fit his beliefs and what he defines as the needs in the community. Customer service is like any other conversation, it is a give and take, a moment to learn and teach. When I hear coffee people say and somewhat justify their behavior through the lens of quality or customer service, I think what it does is take away from the relationship built from coffee and just exacerbates the pretentious notions of craft coffee.