What coffee shops can teach us about Customer Experience.

This blog is dedicated a very good friend of mine, with the ambition of opening the best coffee company in the world, one that serves the best cup of coffee anywhere as part of an unparalleled experience. Somewhere people can stop in and have a drink—a little five-minute bright spot in their day—and go on to whatever's next. In other words, she wants to create a perfect, single-serving customer experience.

Over the last year we have been visiting her favourite coffee shops to gain inspiration. Watching the interactions between regular customers and the staff behind the counter tells a wonderful story. During these visits while we sip on some delicious coffee, I have been watching the customer experiences unfold. What stands out most is, brilliant customer service through brilliant delivery.

If you think about it, there’s not much to coffee. It’s a drink that you can order hot or cold, and price differs a lot depending on where you buy it. What makes coffee stand out above anything else is the people who work at the coffee shops and the experiences they deliver to customers.

There are several lessons we can take from coffee shop experiences.


The experience is most of the product

At this point in the trajectory of coffee, you don’t have to look very hard to find really great coffee. I prefer to feel welcome and appreciated in a comfortable space … and by the way, I’ll have some coffee. Time and time again I will pick a nice experience and good coffee over an amazing coffee but a difficult space and questionable experience. In other words, I’ll take a great time and pretty good food and drink over a great product with a negative experience.

Have a Purpose

Know who you want to please and please the hell out of them. Haters are predisposed to hating, as they say. All the haters in the world can’t take away how good it feels to delight someone who gets you.


The art of listening is under-rated

In some coffee shops, I’ve had to repeat my order several times, and I’ve equally had to return my order several times because it was wrong. Somebody didn’t listen in the first place. When a customer speaks, we have to listen well. Listening is a skill worth learning and honing.

The English language is full of nuance, and the same thing spoken two ways can mean totally different things. When communication is made, the first person may understand the words, but when those words are subsequently communicated to the next person – is the intent behind those words communicated?


The team structure

Go into your local coffee shop during rush hour and watch how the team works together – everyone behind that bar knows their role, and how to work with each other. Never underestimate the importance of your structure as a key art of delivering excellent CX.

Without it, the customer experience may well suffer. For instance, take out one of the people actually making the coffee, or take out the person who brings the coffee to your table. The lack of a cog in the system will result in other people making up for it. Structure isn’t simply limited to people – it’s about processes.


The feedback loop.

Simply being asked by a passing barista if my coffee was OK was nice. It made me think I’d go back there again. It made me feel valued. Too many people think that sending a Net Promoter Score e-mail after every instance of customer service is the best way of eliciting ‘feedback’.

It’s not.

Our ability to gather and analyse feedback is sometimes compromised by our own internal systems. The simple things are easy, but amassing that data can be hard.


Some other quick fire suggestions:

  • See customers as people first, customers second.

  • Great employee on-boarding is an important part of a customer journey.

  • Personalising the experience makes customers feel valued.

  • Small acts of kindness can go miles in a person’s day. Say hello and goodbye. Get the basics right.

  • Hire and retain people passionate people. Attitude is contagious. Customers feel it.

  • Encourage employees to be creative and design solutions. Customers see it.

  • Employees create “wow” moments by listening to customers.

  • Empower employees to enable customers to “leave with a smile.”

  • Good customer experience starts with you.


Create your own learning experience. Stop by a local coffee shop and survey the landscape. Watch what’s going on. You can learn a lot about the customer experience.



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