My name is…


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March 16, 2012Food and Drink2 Comments

What does the term ‘good customer services’ imply to you?

How do you define good in a relationship – supplier to customer – where you assume the default position should always be good.

I pose the question, as this week a giant in the coffee shop world decided to give away a free coffee, as long as you told them your name. It was an easy – customer driven marketing campaign – timelines awash with coffee drinkers alerting you to the fact that something would be free.

It naturally started a rush of tweets that we should all be supporting our local, independent coffee shops as, well, the coffee is better – and most of them already know our names. But is that true? And is the level of customer services you get in an independent, far superior to what you get in a massive chain?

Massive chain tends to have three people you interact with at busy times. Like robots they know their function. One walks around with a cup and pen taking orders. Another stands at a till taking money, whilst the other pushes buttons to make your coffee. The second and third ‘robot’ in that chain has no idea what you ordered. The first has no doubt forgotten as soon as they have passed your cup over. None of those three have asked your name.

Visit a well known, highly respected indie on the periphery of a South London market at their busiest times, and they run the exact same system. It works. They have next to no customer interaction, but their coffee is good, better than good. Therefore people accept this for good coffee.

What of the smaller Indies – those ones that are pushing excellent coffee in a smaller, less robotic manner? Well, these are a mixed bag.

I use three on a regular basis in Leeds. I rate the coffee highly, but how do I rate the customer service?

One stands out, but then I assume that’s because I use them the most. I try to interact with them. I feel more ‘at home’ there than the other two. They talk to you, ask how you are – but they don’t all know my name – but should this be a given? The conversation dips a little when they are busy, but is this acceptable as long as they are keeping the flow of customers sated with coffee?

Of the other two – one gives you a sense of well paced, flowing coffee – but the interaction seems to be limited to either those who try to push the conversation along, or those in the inner circle of customers. I tend to use this place whilst passing through. It’s not really a preferred, sit down destination, and as such I’ve not take the time – or given them the time to get to know me; though it is debatable whether that is their intention.

The third proves to be the hardest to judge. They get their customer services wrong, by trying to be helpful to their customers. I go in most mornings and order the same thing – a small cappuccino. Their small is standard size of the other two. Every morning the exchange starts in the exact same way. I order. I am advised that the size I am ordering is small. I nod, acknowledge, and then they turn their back on me and make my coffee. Conversation only resumes once they call out the completed order.

The issue here is that I know what size I want. They even have their three cup sizes on display, at the till, in front of the person asking you the question. This is beyond knowing a name; this is a simple case of not even remembering that you have ever been before. But they will think that by clarifying, they are making sure you get what you want – which is good customer services, right?

I once had a job where I was employed to understand what customers in 14 countries wanted from their interaction with my then, company. All this, whilst working for an organisation that believed their customers shouldn’t be happy – they should be grateful for what they get. I quickly learnt that the 14 countries all wanted a different approach – the customers within each of those 14 countries wanted to be treated individually. But is that the same for coffee shop customers?

The fact that chains dominate suggests no. Customers want their coffee, they want their loyalty cards, their sugary treats at the counter – they want big, tall, grande, medio – anything as long as they can get it, and get out.

I don’t care if someone knows my name, but I do care that they recognise me as someone who has been in before. I do like the idea that they may want to engage me in conversation – about the day, about last night’s match – but in a way that it doesn’t feel rehearsed. Most importantly, I want good coffee – so good in fact, that I might turn a blind eye to the silence, the prominent back – just remember what size of cup I take, and everything will be OK.

Well, OK – but is OK really good?

Image: from coffee cup pics

2 Responses to “My name is…”
  1. Phil Ruse

    To be fair to Starbucks, the person behind the counter always remembers the cinnamon danish that goes with my coffee, before I say a word. Though that may not be a good thing!

    • Chris

      You either have the smallest Starbucks or the largest danish intake for that to occur.

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